Building Diversity

More than just policy, getting true diversity is about education.

January 1 2005 by Chief Executive


Eugene McGrath is chairman and chief executive of Con Edison. One might assume, with one of the most diverse candidate pools in its backyard, Con Edison wouldn’t need to work much at diversity. But McGrath still views it as a building process. Here are excerpts from his remarks.

“The process of building diversity is everything, all elements, starting with selection, development, training, discipline, performance evaluation and rotation through the company. One of the problems we saw early on is we would wait until somebody was ready to be selected for vice president and we’d look around and say, ‘Well, only these people are qualified.’ We weren’t giving enough exposure to the entry level to make sure people got the diversity of experience and background they needed, so that when you were looking at the pool at the vice president level, you had a diverse pool of candidates. So we worked very hard to do that.

“We were also having trouble getting women to work in the streets with jackhammers and lifting manhole covers. So we started this program where we put women candidates into a weightlifting program. It was very popular. The only problem was after we hired them, as soon as an opportunity came up for an office job they were smart enough to get out of the streets and get inside. But it has helped to push a lot of the diversity.

“We only have 15,000 employees, but one of the things that we do is we track how many years a person was in the company. We look at that pool of people that came in five years ago and at the distribution, the minority and majority, the diversity distribution. We check whether there are any indications that that pool is not advancing consistent with the numbers. That’s another way to see if your program is working. You don’t have to wait 20 years, but all along the way is a whole cadre advancing at the same rate, and that’s pretty important.

“Metrics are absolutely essential. What you measure about people, they produce. And equal opportunity goes to discipline also. If you have a poor minority performer, you have to act on that person just as if he or she was a poor majority performer.

“The real test is the common sense of the general work population. If you promote someone and all the coworkers say, ‘That was a good choice,’ or you discipline someone and they say, ‘Yeah, that was fair,’ then it’s almost like the jury system. If you pass that test fairly consistently, then I think you’re doing well.”