32. Liz Claiborne: A Casual Success How diverse can a company be without an official program? Surprisingly diverse.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Only two companies made our list without a single lawsuit-dodging, committee-produced, EEOC-inspired diversity plan. Liz Claiborne is one. Nearly 41% of the $2.4-billion-a-year fashion company's employees are minorities--well above the national average of 25.6% and one of the highest percentages on our list. "You have to be leery of programs," says Jorge Figueredo, senior VP of human resources. "You need them, don't get me wrong. But results don't come from programs; they come from effective change in the culture."
That Claiborne attracts so many minorities is a reflection of the company's founder. In the 1970s, when the company was in its infancy, Liz Claiborne showed her appreciation to Asian, black, Hispanic, and Italian seamstresses by giving them flowers after each fashion show. She retired in 1989, but her touches remain: summer Friday afternoons off, flextime, and a staff directory that alphabetizes everyone by first name. It all makes Claiborne attractive to women, who now represent nearly 75% of the 7,100 employees and half the directors. And because Claiborne contributes generously to needy women near its headquarters in New York and New Jersey, it has served women of color well too--at least at lower levels.
Not so among senior executives. Only 5.3% of Claiborne's officers are minorities, below average among our companies. A few years ago Figueredo began to think about creating a more professionally run HR program, unusual for the garment industry, where human resources departments are a rarity. In 1994, Claiborne finally began identifying "high potential" employees (regardless of race) and tracking their progress. The original intent was to do a better job of retaining talented people in a highly competitive industry. In effect the company discovered that it didn't have enough diversity among its managers--or in the areas where future managers were being trained.
There's no consensus on when a company needs a diversity program. "I think for every company it's going to be different," says Figueredo. "Basically, it's when you recognize you have a much bigger enterprise...and you need to stay connected to the consumer and to the market." According to EEOC data, larger companies do a better job of hiring and promoting people of color than smaller ones--perhaps because of diversity programs. In companies of fewer than 100 people, minorities make up 21.1% of the work force and 10% of management; the comparable figures for companies with more than 25,000 employees are 27.7% and 15.3%, respectively.
A few months ago Francine Hopkins, an African American who worked at CSX, arrived at Claiborne expecting her final interview for a human resources job. What she got was a two-hour discussion on diversity and eventually a job created just for her to develop Claiborne's programs. Her first goal is to keep closer track of everyone on the company's "high potential" list. If she sees too few minorities, she's prepared to challenge the criteria for making the list. Externally, Hopkins hopes to step up Claiborne's efforts as well. She's looking into new community programs, including one that would give high school students credit for jobs at Claiborne. Getting flowers from the founder is nice; getting a job is nicer.