April 16, 2012 at 12:25 PM ET
Studies show that companies with the most diverse work forces, especially in top management, tend to be more profitable. But good luck figuring out the gender and race composition at many U.S. corporations.
There is no requirement that Corporate America disclose its diversity data, but Monday two major companies – Goldman Sachs and MetLife -- announced they’d be giving up the long-held secret.
It’s part of an effort in the last few months by John Liu, New York City’s Comptroller who also serves as an advisor and trustee for the Big Apple’s pension funds, to get the companies the funds invest in to disclose their work force diversity.
“Studies have shown the benefits of a diverse work force on company performance and long-term shareowner value, and many companies say they are making serious efforts to recruit, retain and promote women and minorities,” Liu said in a statement. “Without quantitative disclosure, shareowners have no way to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts.”
The information is available and has been since 1964, because under the Civil Rights Act of that year, companies with 100 workers or more have had to report the data on race and gender annually to the U.S. Department of Labor. The problem has been, they were not under any requirement to release that data to the public, or even to local governments such as New York.
“Transparency is key for ensuring equal pay as well as equal opportunity for workers of all backgrounds,” said Beverly Neufeld, president of New York Women's Agenda & Director of the Equal Pay Coalition NYC. “This agreement creates that and underscores just how much willing and interested leaders in government and in business can do together to address inequality in the workplace.”
And there’s a lot of inequality, especially in the higher ranks at companies where the lack of diversity is greatest.
According to data provided by Liu’s office:
There has also been stagnation in the number of women making it to the corner offices of Corporate America. In 2010, women held less than 15 percent of the executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies, and only 7.6 percent of the top earning jobs, according to Catalyst, a diversity research firm.
This despite research that shows diversity at the top helps the bottom line.
According to Catalyst's research, “companies with the highest representation of women on their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women’s representation. This finding holds for both financial measures analyzed: return on equity, which is 35 percent higher, and total return to shareholders, which is 34 percent higher.”
That kind of data is getting people like Liu twisting the screws on companies that won’t divulge diversity information.
Besides Goldman Sachs and MetLife, New York’s pension funds hold shares in AIG, Omnicom, Publicis, and Interpublic. In all, the assets total about $362 million, out of $118 billion in total assets of the funds.
Matthew Sweeney, a spokesman for the comptroller, said the agency is in talks with insurance firm AIG to provide similar data. Advertising firm Omnicom Group Inc. would not agree to the fund's request.
Sweeney said the issue is going to be part of a shareholder vote in the spring.
No one at Omnicom could immediately be reached for comment; but based on the 14 top executive positions posted on the company's web site, only three were women.
The advertising companies that the funds invest in have been reluctant to disclose the diversity data, according to Liu’s statement.
There have been larger efforts to push diversity at U.S. companies, including a new Securities & Exchange Commission rule that went into effect in 2010 requiring that companies disclose how diversity is considered when new board members are nominated.
Liu and New York City's pension funds, added Sweeney, “were among the investors pushing this reform and remain committed to making boards more diverse. But until companies promote more women and minorities into the senior ranks, which the current initiative is geared toward, it will be very difficult to increase diversity in the boardroom, since most directors are picked from the executive ranks of corporate America.”
Liu's push for disclosure is a good first step on the road to more diversity, said Emilio J. Castilla, professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of an article titled “Bringing Managers Back In: Managerial Influences on Workplace Inequality,” published in the American Sociological Review late last year.
“But this might not be enough,” he stressed. “They’re increasing transparency, showing some percentages, but I’d think about accountability. Are there organizational procedures in place to make sure these efforts result in the outcomes they want?”