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Diversity: The New Bottom Line

Newsletter • volume 2 • number 2

The recent Supreme Court attack on affirmative action will almost certainly hinder the expansion of minority and women-owned businesses. It has already had a major impact on the huge University of California system, where regents recently voted to end years of affirmative action in both employment and student admissions. But no ruling ­ legal or otherwise ­ can alter the fact that today's global economy demands a diverse workforce.

To be competitive in the world marketplace, companies need employees who are talented and diverse enough to operate successfully in an increasingly international arena. Although no business can afford to waste talent, this is especially true now, when most companies are experiencing a "talent crunch." Today's complex technical jobs require workers with highly specialized skills, and, as Alvin Toffler points out in Creating a New Civilization, these uniquely skilled employees are not "interchangeable."

But now employers are also seeing fewer young job candidates (approximately five million fewer than a decade ago). Many of these candidates lack the reading skills and math and science proficiency of their predecessors. The dilemma facing business is clear: the demand for top employees is at an all-time high, but the pool of qualified candidates is shrinking. Obviously, it is in an employer's best interest to take advantage of the talent a diverse workforce offers ­ and that includes white males.

Over the past few years, in fact, the idea of what constitutes a varied workplace has changed. Originally, the emphasis was on women and people of color, but the trend now is toward inclusiveness ­ to use the abilities and maximize the potential of every worker, regardless of race or gender.

Ultimately, if employers fail to meet certain diversity standards, they may find themselves without clients. The legal profession is a case in point. Traditionally resistant to change and reluctant to share the wealth (literally and figuratively), law firms are feeling increasing pressure to diversify, and it's coming from their biggest clients. American Airlines recently "laid down the law" to New York's Debevoise & Plimpton, for example, advising the firm that it will be required to file quarterly reports identifying the minorities and women who worked on American's cases. Chrysler Corporation, Aetna Life & Casualty, and General Motors have also stated that minority representation is a major criterion in their choice of counsel.

We believe, however, that most companies don't need prodding. Over the past five years, our clients have demonstrated a continuing interest in our program (Interviewing Today's Workforce®), which provide a strategic way to recruit and maintain diverse talent.