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Columbia 's Center for Career Education Hosts Diversity Recruiting Conference


Students learn about future trends in the job market from a range of employers.

More than 50 employers -- ranging from arts nonprofits such as the American Symphony Orchestra League to government organizations like the Peace Corps and the CIA to businesses such as Citigroup and Microsoft -- recently convened on campus to alert students of all racial, ethnic and gender groups to career opportunities in a wide range of industries.

The Diversity Recruiting Conference, which will become an annual event, was hosted Feb. 5 by the Center for Career Education with the support of Goldman Sachs. Some 350 students registered for the event and 200 submitted resumes. The program included a Demographic Panel on the social and economic impact of the changing U.S. population and workforce, as well as two industry sessions with representatives from various companies and organizations.

The sessions were followed by a networking lunch, which included another panel on diversity recruiting practices featuring Adlar Garcia of the Alumni Association and Lance La-Vergne, vice president of global diversity recruiting at Goldman Sachs.

The Demographic Panel was chaired by Professor Gary Okihiro, director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia, who asked the panelists to focus not only on the broad social implications of recent demographic trends, but also to examine their effects on "our lives as members of the American community."

Brian Welle, director of research at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance women in business, reported that from 1997 to 2002, while women did not fall behind, they failed to make strides in the percentage of corporate officer positions they held. In 1997, 11 percent of corporate officer positions in Fortune 500 companies were held by women. In 2002, that number had increased to only 16 percent.

Still, Welle said, a sea change was taking place during that time in the business world that could eventually result in greater gains for women. During the competition for talent in the hot mid-'90s economy, "many organizations discovered that women were underrepresented -- they were a talent pool that wasn't being tapped to its fullest potential." A large number of companies then looked inward, studying their corporate cultures and norms, and decided that many of their practices were exclusionary.

This introspection led many firms to institute diversity policies and more closely monitor gender hiring. The changes were motivated primarily to achieve greater social justice, but, according to a just-released Catalyst study, they also appear to be linked to greater profitability.

"For those Fortune 500 companies with the greatest female representation in corporate officer positions, their return on equity was 34 percent higher than those with the smallest representation of women. So organizations are beginning to realize that having gender diversity is good for them," Welle said.

Richard Roberts, director of Goldman Sachs's Urban Investment Group, has also found that diversity is good for business. Roberts' group, which he helped found, has invested more than $100 million of the firm's capital in minority-owned or Cmanaged businesses and in urban real estate. Roberts said that Goldman Sachs sees these areas as a huge market opportunity.

"There's increased buying power that's accompanied the growth in population among minorities, particularly among Hispanics and African Americans," Roberts said. "We see hundreds of business plans each year seeking to capitalize on these markets. There's a real desire to build brands that target and focus on these markets."

Roberts offered several examples of the burgeoning market and its opportunities, citing the 26 percent mean increase in income of African-American households between 1990 and 2000. Roberts also noted that some 3.7 million African-American households now have incomes of more than $50,000.

Rodolfo de la Garza, Columbia professor of political science, said there is an inherent danger in targeting minority markets. He warned that the risk is that minorities may be hired only to reach these market niches and thus become professionally pigeonholed: "My students would often insist that they wanted their business or government to deal with Latinos. But they resented that they would be assigned the task."

"For example, you want to work on the presidential campaign," he continued. " 'Yes, OK, you get to take care of the Mexicans.' 'No, no, I want to work on the presidential campaign, not the Mexicans.' So, there can be a kind of tension."

The events are part of an ongoing series of Center for Career Education programs that will explore job-related diversity issues. "The objective of the conference and this programming is to give the diverse Columbia student population the opportunity to learn about industries and fields in which they are interested," said Christopher Pratt, dean of Career Education, "and to give employers the opportunity to foster relationships with students of diverse backgrounds early in their academic careers. The conference also fostered a dialogue between the university community and employers about the impact of diversity on future employment strategies.

"The Diversity in Recruiting Conference is a reflection of the Center for Career Education's mission," Pratt continued. "It is part of exciting programming exploring important topics relating to careers, the workplace, the workforce, entrepreneurship, enterprise leadership and economic development internationally to create new opportunities for learning, dialogue and connections among students, administrators, faculty, alumni and employers."

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Published: Mar 04, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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