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by Vault Law Editors | March 31, 2009

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Not too long ago, most companies viewed efforts to raise numbers of women and ethnic minorities as a necessary evil imposed by affirmative action laws. But nowadays, more and more companies are waking up to the fact that diversity is good business.

Companies are enjoying the benefits that come with employing people from different backgrounds. For example, global companies with minority clients are better able to communicate with clients worldwide.

But just stating a commitment to diversity isn't enough to ensure that a company has created a comfortable environment for all of its employees. They must put time and money into building an atmosphere where minorities can succeed.

Prove it!

Some companies do a far better job of this than others. The following companies have a dedication to diversity that goes beyond mere quota-meeting. At all levels, these ten firms make it clear that diversity is a priority.

The surest way to prove a commitment to diversity: representation of minorities and women in senior management - a sign that the company is not just managing to recruit and hire minorities, but also to retain and promote them. Fortune reports that minority groups represent 12.4% of the officials and managers of an average company. Most of our top ten beat that percentage.

Another positive sign: funding support groups and other programs for women and members of minority groups (including ethnic minorities, disabled workers, gays and lesbians). Our best companies also make concerted efforts to do business with minority-owned enterprises. Finally, any company that takes the issue of diversity seriously must acknowledge that there's still a long way to go.

~Top Ten Companies

American Express

You'd expect a financial and travel services company with customers and branches all over the world to have an expansive view of its own employee diversity - and you'd be right. Consistently honored in the media as one of the nation's top employers, American Express is known for supporting and encouraging minorities both inside and outside its walls.

Its president and COO is Kenneth Chenault, an African American who also sits on the company's board of directors. Also on the board are two women and presidential confidante Vernon Jordan. Chenault is widely considered to be the leading candidate to succeed current Amex CEO Harvey Golub. Contacts at the firm confirm there are "a large number of women and minorities in upper management positions," and add that American Express' "minority recruiting is very proactive."

Diversity programs are mandatory for all American Express employers. One insider offers that "violation of diversity policies is grounds for dismissal, though human resources also has the discretion to offer counseling, training or probation Reports one recent MBA hire: "Diversity issues are addressed at all levels, and almost all employees seem satisfied with the commitment the company has made towards women and minorities."

The firm offers domestic partnership benefits to life partners of gay and lesbian employees, and supports employee-created and run networks which include the Black Employment Network (BEN); Association of Hispanics Organized to Raise Awareness (AHORA); Asians Supporting International Awareness (ASIA); Gay and Lesbian Organization to Build Equality (GLOBE); Women's Issue Network (WIN), and a group for Christian employees.

~Amex also devotes time and money to encourage minorities outside its walls. It is a corporate sponsor of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management - a program that grants merit-based fellowships to minorities in MBA programs at 11 Universities, including NYU's Stern School of Business, the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and UVA's Darden School of Business. In addition, Amex fosters long-term relationships with city and state governments, nati

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