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Making diversity the Xerox difference

Marcia Knowles Matthews:
Making diversity the Xerox difference

On her first day as a Xerox Corp. employee, Marcia Knowles Matthews felt the brawn of minority groups at work within the firm.
“This black guy came up to me and said: “Hello, welcome, glad to see you’re here–but I just want to let you know that the reason you were hired was because of the (black) caucus group.’
“Well, I was very offended,” Matthews recalls. “I said: “Wait a minute. I graduated from college, I’m intelligent, I got this job on my own, right?’ I was there about two or three months when I realized how true what he said was.”
Like most of corporate America at the time, the Xerox work force was a poor reflection of the world beyond its doors. Take the Oakland, Calif., operation, which Matthews joined in 1972: Though located in a predominantly black area, the office itself was a glare of white.
Rochester, then the site of Xerox corporate headquarters, was no exception. Racial riots hit the city in the 1960s; Xerox employed only a handful of minorities here.
That scenario has changed, thanks in large part to efforts of employee-organized caucus groups and shored by a top-level commitment to diversity that stretches back 30 years.
And the 44-year-old Matthews, who in November became manager of corporate work-force diversity, is charged with guiding these efforts into the 21st century.
Xerox set three goals for its diversity mission:
–To profit from people’s differences rather than treat them as a cost or an obstacle;
–To develop diversity leadership as a keystone to building an organization which values differences;
–To embrace a framework within which work groups and teams can consistently perform and improve their work.
So far, the document company gets an A for effort in hitting those goals.
In February, the firm received the Glass Ceiling Award, officially known as the Perkins-Dole National Award for Diversity and Excellence in American Executive Management. The award, presented by a commission headed by U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, honors companies that have made substantial progress in achieving diversity in the workplace.
At Xerox, 45 of the firm’s 251 vice presidents and directors are minorities; roughly 15 percent of those are women. And 24 percent of the 41 corporate officers are women or minorities.
Of Xerox’s 46,000 U.S. employees, 32 percent are women and 26 percent are minorities.
And while most Fortune 500 firms now have comparable diversity posts within their hierarchy, Matthews says, Xerox was among the first to institutionalize the position.
Still, Matthews is the first to admit that while Xerox has made great strides, much remains to be done.
“I think Xerox is an extraordinarily good company in terms of giving you a wide breadth of opportunities,” she says. “Is it the best thing since sliced bread? Have I not had some trials and tribulations? No, sure I have.
“But I think one of the key differences is that as hard as it may have gotten sometimes–and there have been some tough times–the company, the system has always provided someplace where you can go to get help.”
Matthews’ office at Xerox Square is now one of those places. There she welcomes her constituencies–including minorities, women, disabled workers, gays and lesbians, people over age 40 and veterans–who count on Matthews to see that their voices are heard at Xerox.
Her efforts also focus on Xerox’s 10-year-old balanced work-force initiative, which aims to boost diversity in top management positions.
“(Companies) tend to be top-heavy with white males, but when you get to the lower part of the organization–entry-level and clerical-type jobs–they’re not there,” Matthews says. “Conversely, in most organizations when you look at clerical and lower-level administrative kinds of positions, they’re dominantly female. We’re trying to balance that over time.
“Now, the danger–and what I think people are concerned about–is that Marcia is going to show up and say: “You’ve got to hire two of these and three of those,”’ she adds. “No, I don’t do that. What I’m looking for, though, is continuous improvement toward the goal of a balanced work force.”
Matthews acknowledges that her own power to enforce fundamental change is limited.
“The power I wield is in my ability to influence,” she says, “and the fact that I can call certain high-level people and say: “I’m having some trouble here, I need some help.”’
Her job takes Matthews on frequent sojourns to Xerox headquarters in Stamford, Conn. A corporate shuttle usually brings her back to town in time for dinner with husband Stephen, a Xerox customer service engineer, and their 4-year-old daughter Morgan.
Matthews also travels nationwide, conducting diversity training sessions and meeting with people from business and academia who are working on diversity initiatives of their own.
This busy schedule reflects Matthews’ deep commitment to her work, colleagues say.
“I think she’s very much a values-based person,” says Anne Mulcahy, Xerox corporate officer and vice president of human resources, to whom Matthews reports. “This is not a job you can do if you don’t believe in it.”
“She’s very gung-ho,” agrees Deborah Cox, balanced work-force manager. “When there’s something that has to be done, she gets right on it.”
Matthews uses a variety of metrics to keep an eye on Xerox’s diversity goals, looking at, for example, management’s use of promotions and terminations. She also keeps tabs on the firm’s downsizing and its effect on a balanced work force.
“We have a very good process in place to ensure that we don’t negatively impact any one population, that says if I’ve got X percent before the downsizing then I should have X percent after,” she says.
“But if I go through a report and see an organization (within Xerox) that has a turnover rate at or above the representation rate–say you’ve got 10 percent women but you’re losing them at 12 or 13 percent–then I ask: “Why are they leaving?’ I’ll look at exit interviews, I might hold roundtables, I might sit down and talk to the managers themselves.
“The point is, we look at how a manager uses opportunities and how they manage turnover.”
Mulcahy believes that Matthews’ 23-year history moving up the ranks at Xerox makes her a good fit for this current position.
Matthews landed her first job with Xerox soon after graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in English. The eldest of three daughters, Matthews was strongly influenced by her middle-class parents, who both worked in the Oakland public school system.
Soon after graduating from college, Matthews heard from a high school friend that Xerox was hiring minority women for positions in administration.
She started as a clerical worker, but involvement in the caucus group–acting as a go-between in employee/manager relations–spurred her interest in human resources. Posts in service, sales and HR took her to Santa Ana, Palo Alto and St. Louis, where she served as a region personnel manager.
In the early 1980s, Matthews was affirmative action manager for the West Coast, and later in her career–from 1986 to 1988–she acted as affirmative action manager for the U.S. copier/duplicator division.
Because of her past association with affirmative action at Xerox, Matthews makes sure to draw a clear line between that term and diversity.
“Affirmative action focuses on race and gender,” she says. “Diversity looks at a wide array of differences: culture, geography, languages, different ideas.
“Diversity is a business objective, part of our competitive advantage, whereas affirmative action was a personnel program, or at least that’s the way it was perceived.”
In fact, the affirmative action positions that Matthews and others previously held have been eliminated.
“That’s a testament to the process,” she says. “I don’t need an affirmative action manager in every region. If I have an affirmative action or diversity problem, I go directly to the line management–I don’t need another manager to intercede.”
Rather than focusing merely on the metrics of affirmative action, Matthews puts energy toward changing attitudes, a less measurable but more fundamental task.
“Regardless of how you feel about diversity, I want to impact your behaviors and your ability to understand that, on top of getting revenue and maintaining the service annuities and making sure that research and development gets good products on the market, you have to do it with a diverse work force.
“If you don’t, you’re missing out on something, you’re not taking full advantage of the populace out there.”
[Rochester Business Journal Profile, 5/5/95]

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