On Thursday, November 5, 2009, Northrop Grumman President and Chief Operating Officer Wes Bush addressed the Employment Round Table of Southern California in Los Angeles. Below are his prepared remarks.

50th Anniversary of the Fair Employment and Housing Act – A California Business Executive’s Perspective

Thank you, Sharon [Agnew, Chair of Employment Round Table]. It’s great to be here this morning.  I very much appreciate your invitation to participate in the Round Table’s annual conference.  Northrop Grumman is honored to join with the Round Table and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in paying tribute to California’s 50 years of civil rights leadership.

As we are celebrating this Anniversary, I thought I would start this morning by reflecting for a moment on the creation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Today’s Fair Employment and Housing Act is an important statute with extensive reach – but its creation was a heroic effort pursued over half a century. It was put together with great pride by many dedicated contributors determined to make our state’s workplace fairer for everyone. And today we celebrate what it has meant to thousands of Californians.

The drive for improvement was already moving forward in the 1940s and 50s, led by the California Committee for Fair Employment Practices. Its pioneering civil rights leaders Augustus Hawkins, Byron Rumford, and C.L. Dellums worked tirelessly to turn their ideas into legislation. We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these leaders for their advocacy of equal rights during that time.

Success was not won, however, until 1959.  In that year, a Fair Employment Practices Act was finally passed – prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, and ancestry. Governor Edmund G. Brown signed the Act into law, calling it “a great moment in the history of California – and a milestone in the long fight for equal opportunity.”

Then, in 1963, legislators added the Rumford Fair Housing Act – named for a great Californian and the first African American in the California Assembly. This Act barred discrimination in connection with the sale and rental of housing. As we heard from Phyllis, it took some years for this to be made effective.

Today, after much skillful policy shaping by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and many legislative and regulatory amendments, California has an Act that offers greatly expanded protections – as you know, it now also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, age, physical and mental disabilities, marital status, medical conditions, and sexual orientation.

The Act in its present form offers Californians tremendously increased fairness in the workplace.  It provides protections that are in many cases more potent than those available under its federal counterpart, Title Seven.

The effectiveness of the law is ensured by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which vigorously enforces its provisions.  In 2008, for example, the Department filed more than 20 thousand cases.

Other valuable work of the Department that we are recognizing today is its outreach and technical assistance programs that help various groups and individuals improve the fairness of their employment and real estate transactions.  I should note that these outreach efforts have really kept up with the times in the various types of information access offered to employers and employees – including a page on Wikipedia, a You Tube channel and a Facebook site. You can be assured we take full advantage of these tools.

A close partnership with the Department has been at the heart of The Employment Round Table’s ability to deliver excellent service in the EEO and AA arena – you deserve much praise for your successful efforts to eliminate bias in the workplace by educating employers about issues relating to fair employment law. Many of Northrop Grumman’s EEO experts and labor lawyers are members of the Round Table, and we are well aware of how much you contribute and are proud to be a part.

The Round Table’s partnership with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing is reflected in your collaboration for this conference, as well as in your two award ceremonies.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Ms. Wanda Kirby, the Round Table’s honoree for this year’s Carol F. Schiller award.  Carol Schiller was a great advocate for equal opportunity, and Wanda embodies that as well.  I also congratulate the recipients of the Department’s awards for civil rights heroes.  The achievements honored today are outstanding and set high standards that challenge the rest of us to excel.  I’m sure the founders of our Fair Employment Act would approve of how their vision is being expanded by the fine work of these honorees.

I should add that Wanda Kirby’s career as a leading executive of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing epitomized the productive partnership between California government, the Employment Round Table and California industry.  For the past 23 years, she helped the Round Table conduct educational seminars and annual conferences for employers and labor representatives.  These programs had a direct positive impact on many employers and their practices.

Partnerships like this one dedicated to increasing the benefits of the Fair Employment Act have made big contributions across the California employment landscape.

Signs of this progress are obvious to all of us in our daily work lives.

Progress in fairness and equality certainly is also reflected in today’s Hero Awards – which honor leaders who have contributed significantly to the development of the Fair Employment Act, or have advanced civil rights, or promoted diversity in California’s workplace. 

In my conference role as spokesman for the business community, let me point out that two of these winners represent private sector companies.  And of course, I would like to recognize and express my appreciation for my favorite former honoree of the Carol Schiller Award, Sandra Evers-Manly, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Northrop Grumman.

The many Southern California companies that embrace EEO, Affirmative Action, Diversity and the Fair Employment Act see this commitment not only as a fundamental of ethics, but also as critical for building a workplace that enables employees to fully develop their capabilities and to interact with teammates in relationships of trust and cooperation.  And, of course, another key benefit generated by the emphasis on fair employment practices is workforce diversity. 

Many companies are convinced that the best way to be strong is by hiring, developing, and retaining top talent from a diverse pool of candidates – and by creating an inclusive work environment that makes diversity a powerful competitive advantage.

Businesses see several benefits to be gained from diversity:

First, it brings different perspectives that increase a company’s ability to innovate and meet customers’ needs.  Recent studies have argued, using sophisticated analysis, that diversity among a group of problem solvers is often more important than individual excellence.  I think many of us have seen situations in our workplaces that demonstrate the strength of this conclusion.

Diversity also creates a more stimulating work environment that enables employees to gain greater career satisfaction. And diversity provides a better alignment of a company with the changing populations that will provide its future employees and customers.

Let me say a few words about Northrop Grumman as an example of how Southern California companies are building on the legacy of the Fair Employment Act.

Our company incorporates principles and policies of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action into our daily operations – this is a long-standing, and continuing, important aspect of our business practice.

Closely aligned with our company’s emphasis on EEO is our strategy for diversity and inclusion.  To ensure that our senior leaders understand the importance of diversity and inclusion to our business, this function reports to our CEO.  It plays a critical role in our company’s future, and must have a commensurate level of leadership support. 

We’ve chartered Diversity Leadership Councils at our five operating sectors to be the prime advocates for the function across the company.  Next year, in my new role as CEO, I will also be chairing an enterprise-wide diversity and inclusion council. 

We’re emphasizing a number of actions to build a more diverse workforce.  We’re requiring that our hiring managers provide diverse slates of interview candidates for openings at manager, director and VP levels.  And we’re giving priority attention to increasing our placements of women and people of color in our leadership ranks and board. 

In addition, we’re working to identify and develop talented diverse people inside the company that show potential for moving into key management positions.  This effort also involves improving the inclusiveness of our workplaces.  We’ve developed courses to help leaders excel in creating the collaborative team environments that fully empower diversity. 

Another step we’ve taken is to increase our focus on implementing flexible work practices and policies to accommodate employees who seek diverse approaches to optimizing work-life.

A key element of our strategy has been ensuring accountability for program results.  We do an annual diversity review with our board of directors, covering both our progress and the areas where we have not met objectives.  Finally, I hold diversity reviews with the presidents of our operating sectors to ensure the right level of focus and attention is being placed on executing our strategy.

We’ve made good progress in increasing the overall diversity of our company.  We still have more work to do, however – and I will continue to take personal ownership of this effort. 

In our industry, where all companies face intense competition for a waning supply of high-tech managers and professionals, human capital formation is a critical challenge.  To meet that challenge in the coming era of profound demographic change, we must have leaders who are skilled at creating inclusive workplaces and realizing the full value of diversity.

Success will come only when our actions prove that we are 100-percent dedicated to the mutually supporting imperatives of equal opportunity, affirmative action, workforce diversity, and workplace inclusion.  We are determined to reach this goal.

And I can tell you it is a goal that is shared by many business leaders in California.

I’ve found that business executives working to extend the positive impact of the Fair Employment Act can find inspiring leadership models among America’s great civil rights pioneers.  Consider the example of Augustus Hawkins.  Beginning in the 1940s as a member of the California assembly he was in the forefront of efforts to create a Fair Employment Act – and much later, as a member of Congress, he continued to break new ground with civil rights initiatives until he retired in 1991 at the age of 84.  This is how he summed up his view of leadership in public service:

“Leadership belongs not to the loudest, not to those who beat the drums or blow the trumpets, but to those who day in and day out, in all seasons, work for the practical realization of a better world – those who have the stamina to persist and to remain dedicated.  Those give us true leadership.”

These are inspiring words for all of us who seek the “realization of a better world.”  Changing the world around us is never easy – but dedication and persistence will finally carry the day.