Yet S.C. Johnson & Son has cracked Fortune magazine's list of America's 50 Best Companies for Minorities two years running, rising to No. 16 last year and besting marketers based in far more cosmopolitan settings such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. S.C. Johnson got high marks for the 21% of its new hires and 10.5% of its officials and managers who are minorities, including nine of the top 50 highest-paid executives and two of 10 directors.
S.C. Johnson marketing executives cite a wide range of efforts for their success, ranging from recruiting teams targeting historically black colleges and universities to fellowships for minority MBA candidates and flexible arrangements that allow executives to commute from Chicago or Milwaukee. While recruiters say the market for minority marketing executives is getting more competitive, companies such as S.C. Johnson, with strategies for finding and retaining minority executives, are succeeding.
One key principle is that success begets success in diversity recruiting.
"One of the things I was impressed with [about S.C. Johnson] was the number of people of color within the marketing department," says Rodney Northern, who joined as category manager-air care in late 1999 after marketing jobs at Clorox Co., Philip Morris Cos.' Miller Brewing Co. and Coca-Cola Co.
Mr. Northern became captain of S.C. Johnson's recruiting team at Clark Atlanta University, a historically black university in Atlanta, where the company has recruited since the early 1990s.
"One of our strongest selling points is bringing our diverse talent back onto the college campuses where they were recruited," says Mary Nelson, a former S.C. Johnson marketing executive who's now director of diversity.
Marcus Margerum, aircare marketing manager at S.C. Johnson and, like Mr. Northern, a Clark alum, believes this year's recruiting class from Clark will be one of the company's best ever. But he acknowledges the competition on the campus is intensifying.
Indeed, package-goods heavyweight Procter & Gamble Co. this year is expanding its commitment to recruiting on historically black college campuses, developing a recruiting "channel" team for that purpose for the first time, in addition to a team devoted to recruiting Hispanic candidates.
P&G also brings potential minority recruits into summer camps before they're ready for internships or permanent positions. The camps give students assignments that put them in contact with brand and general managers.
"We're really trying to identify [minority] candidates early so we can develop a relationship long-term and hopefully turn that into long-term employment," says Camille Pierce, senior recruiting manager for marketing, U.S., at P&G.
Specialized recruiting programs and incentives help, but genuine commitment to diversity among top executives may be the real key, says Alex Rodriguez, president of Diversity Consulting Group, a Los Angeles-based recruiter of minority executives.
Diversity Consulting sprang from Mr. Rodriguez's Hispanic marketing consulting business four years ago as he constantly fielded requests, mainly from advertising agencies, for help in recruiting Hispanic executives. But not every company that seeks minority applicants is genuinely committed to diversity, he says.
"You wouldn't believe how many times I picked up work with companies only to find out they're in their second set of interviews with other people," Mr. Rodriguez says. "It was mostly just to give the appearance of being a company that was actively recruiting minorities."
Some traditional "old economy companies" are generally ahead of technology companies in commitment to diversity, he says, singling out P&G, McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp. "They're spending money on their outreach efforts."
Those programs aren't necessarily reflected at senior management levels, particularly at companies like P&G with strong traditions of promoting from within, he says, but they do appear to have an impact at middle management and college recruiting.
"Diversity is a business strategy, not just a good thing to do," says Rey Gonzales, McDonald's director of diversity initiatives. "Certainly there are social implications. But it's a strong business imperative for us. And I think it's really important to realize that senior management embraces this as a core philosophy as well."
In an October memo to P&G employees, President-CEO A.G. Lafley tried to drive home the diversity point this way: "All the data I've seen in 30 years of being in business convince me that a diverse organization will out-think, out-innovate and outperform a homogenous organization every single time."
To show its management's commitment to diversity, S.C. Johnson is rolling out a training program for all managers this year that makes the business case for diversity, using not only national data but also cases drawn from the company's own experience, such as the success of the marketing team behind Glade.
At least one senior manager also participates in each of S.C. Johnson's business councils for African-American, disabled, gay and lesbian, Hispanic and women employees. The Gay & Lesbian Business Council was formed three years ago at the urging of now President-CEO William Perez, after he invited several gay and lesbian employees to his office to share their experiences at the company.
"At the end of our two-to-three-hour session, he charged us with going out and forming a council to improve things," says Jerome Chingo-Harris, North American information services manager and co-chair of the council. "He has been an advocate for us for the past three years and a very strong one, which we fully appreciate."
Beyond training and mentoring programs, which include a "mentor up" operation pairing new women recruits with senior executives, S.C. Johnson also offers a variety of work life programs and flexibility to help retain women and minorities, says Ms. Nelson, who considers herself one of the best examples.
WANTED TO LIVE IN CHICAGO
After 16 years as a marketing executive and a rotation as a marketing director in Brazil, Ms. Nelson returned to the U.S. and wanted to live in downtown Chicago-involving a commute of more than an hour on the best days. The company offered her a flexible part-time schedule to accommodate her. And S.C. Johnson also subsidizes hotel rooms for Milwaukee- or Chicago-based employees who need to work late, as well as shuttles and van pools for commuters from those cities.
"That helps our diversity, because we need to recruit people from Milwaukee, from the northern suburbs of Chicago and downtown as well as Racine," Ms. Nelson says. "So we really need to be flexible."