Diversity in the workplace is a given in today' s fast-moving global economy. By the time companies reach 100 employees, if they don' t have it already, they see the added incentive and statutory enforcement authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) staring over their shoulders. And by the time they make the Fortune 500 list, they' ll be concerned about refining their programs for diversity sourcing, retention, and resource allocation. But developing those initial strategies - that' s often the elusive part.

Meaningful answers

As an informational tool toward developing initial strategies, WetFeet.com offers its 2001 Diversity Recruitment Report.

According to Steve Pollack, president of WetFeet, "We determined our primary research medium, in this case, women and minority candidates; decided whether to concentrate on quantitative or qualitative analysis; set up objectives; identified the survey population so that the answers were meaningful; and set up a screening portion of the survey. We tried to focus this methodology on candidates to determine issues related to diversity hiring."

Survey methodology

WetFeet then conducted online polls on three separate Web sites under specific polling parameters. Each diversity respondent had to be female and/or minority; educated beyond the high school level; trained with at least one year of professional experience; and interested in a "professional, managerial, or technical position."

Some 70% of the 748 women and minority men polled were ethnic minorities; 83% had at least a college degree; 81% were currently employed; 62% were interested in professional positions; 20% were interested in senior-management positions; and 15% were interested in technical positions.

Depending on ethnic heritage, respondents gave varying significance to a diverse workforce. Among all respondents, one-third would dismiss a company for lack of diversity. Among African Americans, results are even more stratified; 44% would refuse to work for a company that does not exhibit gender or ethnic diversity. A smaller number, 16%, looked for indications of a company' s commitment in the composition of its workforce.

The importance of other work-life issues varies more along gender lines. Approximately 57% of females rated comprehensive benefits as significant in their employment decisions, but only 39% of the minority men did. Some 52% of women expected initiatives to create a work-life balance; only 38% of minority men expressed interest in them; and 42% of women found generous vacation time as compelling compared to 28% of the men surveyed.

When minority candidates decide which company offers the most opportunity for them personally, they often look at career development opportunities, the diversity-composition of upper management, mentoring opportunities and community reach programs offered. The WetFeet survey broached these subjects in its question of what is the "most important diversity-related attribute of an employer." "Training and career development programs" was the first choice among all respondents (37%), and diverse upper management was second choice (22%). Among African-Americans, however, those choices were reversed (in a ratio of 33% to 29%).

The implication, according to the WetFeet report, is that "Companies should prioritize which internal areas are most in need of diversity efforts. Focusing building diversity within upper management sends the strongest message to top diversity candidates about the possibilities at an organization."

Most of the respondents, 70%, said that they use corporate Web sites in their job searches; 67% use job-posting sites; but, interestingly, only 13% use diversity Web sites.

One significant implication for companies, according to Pollack, is that "Diversity candidates said they use the same company Web sites and job posting Web sites that other candidates use. If companies want to reach diversity candidates, they need to include information in their general messaging for diversity candidates as well. They also need to demonstrate commitment through the Web sites and general tools that they use."

Liz Givens, research manager at WetFeet.com, adds, "One other point for companies to notice as they look at their commitment to diversity is that 33% of the candidates had eliminated a company because of a lack of gender or ethnic diversity. Candidates were saying that companies can ' kill a deal' by not promoting diversity."