By Sandra Guy
Friday, December 23, 2005
In the wake of a report that many top U.S. companies fail to publicly disclose their efforts to hire and promote women and people of color, activists express dismay and point to other ways to monitor corporate practices.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Activists expressed disappointment but not surprise at a new survey showing that nearly half of the largest publicly traded companies in America fail to disclose their efforts to hire and promote women and people of color.
"The fact that such a large percentage of companies don't voluntarily disclose suggests either a general antipathy to granting the public access to important workplace information or concern about their workplace practices," said Lane Windham, spokesperson for the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of North American labor unions based in Washington, D.C.
The most surprising revelation showed that shareholders have borne $1 billion in costs resulting from discrimination lawsuits in the pharmaceutical, petroleum and consumer products industries, said Windham.
The survey involved Standard and Poor's 100 companies, a listing of large firms that represent a broad range of industries, but three dropped out during the survey period. Of the 97 companies left, 53 percent did not respond to the research network's survey at all.
As widely reported on Dec. 7, 46 percent of the participating companies admitted they failed to publicly release their equal employment opportunity data in full, according to a report released by the Social Investment Analyst Research Network, a network of analysts based in Washington, D.C., that supports socially responsible investing.
The total of 54 percent that fully disclosed with or without being asked is probably closer to 25 percent in reality because the network assumed that most of the companies that failed to respond to its survey also fail to disclose their diversity figures.
Only 13 percent, or 6 of the 46 companies that responded to the network's survey, provide full public disclosure. They are Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel and Merck and Co Inc. Another 19 companies said they make full EEO information available, but only upon request. Another six companies make partial disclosure. One-third of the responding companies, or 15, refused to make public any equal opportunity data.
The survey also identified companies that failed to fully disclose the extent to which they are achieving progress on equal employment opportunity. These are Altria Group Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Walt Disney, AES Corp., Allegheny Technologies, American International Group Inc., Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Exelon Corp., The Home Depot Inc., Lucent Technologies, Medimmune Inc., Norfolk Southern, Raytheon Company and Viacom.
The Social Investment Analyst Research Network called on companies to disclose the data more openly, noting that companies with a good record on diversity have a competitive advantage in recruiting and keeping employees.
The network is considering studying the feasibility of requiring companies to disclose the information, and the best way to go about it, said Fran Teplitz, managing director of the Washington-based Social Investment Forum.
Alma Morales Riojas, chair of the board of the Washington-based Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, said the lack of disclosure is inexcusable because investors need data about where a company stands or the progress it should make in its diversity initiatives. "Companies that are not able to disclose (their diversity data) are setting themselves up for, if not failure, being non-competitive," Morales Riojas said.
Nevertheless, in contrast to the research network's policy of naming corporations, Morales Riojas said that the Hispanic Association prefers to meet one on one with companies' executives to press for progress on diversity, rather than fault them by name when they fail to disclose their progress.
"From our perspective, life is short," said Morales Riojas, who is also president and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization formerly known as the Mexican American Women's National Association, based in Washington, D.C. "We have to make the most of opportunities to work in a constructive and positive manner."
However, Ilene H. Lang, president of Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit membership organization dedicated to advancing women and people of color in corporate America, said public availability of the data is the only way to get a full picture of companies' diversity commitments.
"It sends an important message to stakeholders--shareholders, employees, potential employees, top management and customers--that a company values diversity and fosters an inclusive environment," Lang said. "We look forward to more disclosure."
The report emphasized that women and minorities represent 47 percent and 27 percent of the U.S. work force, respectively, but represent less than 19 percent and 11 percent of executive-level positions in the corporate world.
"The findings help because they underscore the magnitude of the problem with respect to hiring and advancing minorities and women," said Windham, the spokesperson for the AFL-CIO.
Meanwhile, activists are finding their own ways to monitor corporations and promote workplace diversity.
Windham said that companies wishing to share their diversity data with shareholders or the public need only copy a form they already file with the federal government. The EEO form, she said, requires no information on wages and requires demographic breakdowns for only 10 broad occupational categories.
Ten years ago, the federal Glass Ceiling Commission--established by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 to document representation in corporations--urged public and private companies to voluntarily disclose their data on their progress in hiring and promoting women and minorities. The companies are not required to disclose the data to investors, but most are required to file the data with the federal government in what is called an EEO-1 report. To access the government's copy of a company's diversity data, a shareholder or other interested person would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
The AFL-CIO launched on Nov. 18 Job Tracker 2.0, an online database that gives the public easy access to information on corporate behavior. With the database, workers can find out which companies in their communities export jobs, as well as examine employers' track records on health, safety and workers' rights.
"We urge all companies to look at their equal employment opportunity data internally and do something about it," Lang said. "Rectify inequities, advance women and people of color, and cease stereotyping."
Also, Women Work!, a national network for women's employment based in Washington, D.C., has set up a job bank called the Job Finder that can help employers find qualified women to fill jobs, said Jill Miller, president and CEO of Women Work!
"The first step is for companies to recognize areas where women and minorities are under-represented, and to put together a strategy to address that," she said.
Sandra Guy, a 22-year veteran journalist, is a business reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. She has covered business, politics, education, technology and peace issues, and served as a former president of the Chicago chapter of the Association for Women Journalists.
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