Workforce Diversity Varies with the Territory

By John Rossheim
Monster Senior Contributing Writer

What does workforce diversity mean in a state as predominantly white as Vermont?

That was the question underlying a political attack against Howard Dean, a former presidential hopeful. Democratic opponent Al Sharpton criticized Dean for not naming people of color to top positions in state government while he was governor of Vermont.

If workplace diversity is important to you, you should consider raising a similar question when you evaluate a potential employer: Is the company making sufficient progress toward diversity goals, given the racial and other characteristics of the local, regional and national workforce?

You can investigate this by asking a few more questions.

What's the Demographic Makeup of the Local Area?

First, ask yourself –- and the employer –- how the staff measures up to the local workforce along the dimensions of diversity that are important to you. This might include age, gender, sexual orientation or disability, as well as race and ethnic background.

For starters, "organizations should do all they can to ensure there's a numerically based decision on diversity goals," says Mike Hyter, CEO of J. Howard & Associates Inc., a multicultural consulting firm in Brighton, Massachusetts. "You can look at census data as an indicator of the makeup of your labor pool" and set diversity goals accordingly.

Workforce census data is available for metropolitan areas and states, for example. But since it is gathered only every 10 years, this information periodically becomes outdated, Hyter notes. Ask a prospective employer whether the human resources department uses private market research to update the company's diversity goals.

How Diverse Are the State and Region?

"When the hiring company moves up into managerial and executive ranks, often the recruiting area gets larger," because the pool of qualified local candidates is smaller, says Melanie Harrington, executive director of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, an Atlanta think tank.

"The search may go from city and county to statewide or nationwide," Harrington says. Willingness to take on a national executive search, which carries higher costs for recruitment and relocation, can test whether an employer is willing to back its rhetoric on diversity with money.

But you do have to be realistic about the availability of qualified, diverse talent in the hiring situation you're sizing up. For example, Howard Dean's defenders pointed out that Vermont's civilian labor force was 96.7 percent white in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau.

That state's workforce, from which state employees would naturally be drawn, is much more homogenous than the national workforce. Across the United States, workers are 72.8 percent white, 10.7 percent Hispanic, 10.5 percent African American, 3.6 percent Asian and 2.4 percent other races.

How Are Diverse Employees Distributed Through the Ranks?

The raw numbers of women and minorities working for a company don't tell the whole story of how diversity relates to geography. An employer may brag that overall it has a high percentage of minority workers, while the deeper truth is that minorities dominate the outlying production facilities, but managers at the downtown headquarters are nearly all white.

You should also take note of the prospective employer's assumptions about the risks that diverse employees may be willing to take. "Companies shouldn't assume an executive won't move to Des Moines because they're African American," says Hyter. The 2000 Census reported that the Des Moines labor force was 90 percent white and 3.2 percent African American. Among general and operations managers in the city, 1,960 were white and only 20 were African American.

Source : Monster Career Advice

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