The barrage of utility feel-good press releases and missives offering silly public warnings that clog my e-mail get routinely deleted. Every once in a while, however, some will catch my eye. Those that do—not the ones advising amorous ratepayers to hold on to their Mylar Valentine's balloons to avoid power line collisions—usually get stuck in a file that gets quickly buried by more pressing news. I was reminded of that file recently. During the California Public Utilities Commission's last meeting of 2004, a representative from the California Utilities Diversity Council gave overall high marks to regulators and the utilities for their commitments to workplace and supplier diversity. After giving it more thought and reviewing that file, I was reminded how the utilities' diversity practices and programs are commendable for the most part. California utilities have taken major strides in reaching the underlying goal of equal opportunity in the workplace. The three investor-owned utilities, as well as many public power agencies, have impressive percentages of people of color in their respective workforces. At two of the three utilities, the numbers of nonwhites at the management level are also noteworthy. "We take great pride that we are proving diversity works," said Sempra spokesperson Ann Silva. Of Pacific Gas & Electric's 20,040 employees, 35 percent are minorities. In addition, 33 percent of its managers are nonwhite, and 30 percent of the executives are people of color, according to utility spokesperson Claudia Mendoza. More than 45 percent of Southern California Edison's workforce is nonwhite, with 20.8 percent of its management and 23 percent of its senior management made up of people of color, said Gil Alexander, utility spokesperson. At San Diego Gas & Electric and its sister utility SoCal Gas, 51.5 percent of the employees are nonwhite. Minority managers at the two utilities make up 41 percent of management, Silva said. The number of people of color in the upper echelons is, however, far smaller. Minorities and women make up 27 percent of the utilities' senior management teams, with nonwhites only a quarter of that figure—a little more than 7 percent. As with the numbers of female utility employees and managers (<i>Circuit<\/i>, Oct. 15, 2004), a strict comparison of the companies' percentages cannot be made because presumably they define management differently. Be that as it may, all three investor-owned utilities have been recognized for their diversity. <i>Fortune<\/i> Magazine gave kudos to SDG&E's and SoCal Gas's parent Sempra and to Edison. Latina Style has recognized PG&E for its workplace diversity. In addition, during the time PG&E and Edison were in financial straits, their diversity programs remained intact. Board diversity, however, falls short of the mark, according to a report released last month by the California Utilities Diversity Council. The council, which works with the CPUC, is made up of utility representatives—from energy, telecommunications, and water companies—and members from the minority business community. The boards are still "largely a bunch of white males," said Arthur Jimenez, the CPUC manager for supplier diversity. Looking at the ethnic composition of the different utilities from the last 10 years, the council found "a slight increase in female, African American, and Asian American board members with a decrease in Latino board members. American Indians continue to await representation on the Boards," according to the report. It notes that overall diversity numbers show "positive trends," but work is needed to boost the numbers in the "higher paying positions and technical positions." At public power agencies, there is a good representation of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans. A number of munis are also headed by people of color. The Pasadena Department of Water & Power's general manager, Phyllis Currie, is African American. Alameda Power and Telecom's general manager is Valerie Fong, an Asian American. Glendale Water & Power is headed by Ignacio Troncoso, who is Hispanic, while Tom Habashi, the director of Roseville Electric, is Egyptian. The numbers of minority muni employees are also noteworthy. The city of Palo Alto Utilities' workforce, for example, is nearly 40 percent nonwhite. African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics make up 27 percent of its management. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District reports that 28 percent of its workforce and 24 percent of its executive management are nonwhites. Breaking the numbers down by gender reveals that 26 percent of its male employees are of color, and about 34 percent of its female workers are minorities, said SMUD spokesperson Chris Capra. At the upper level, 44 of the female managers are minorities, and 24 percent of male nonwhites work in the management ranks. Of Pasadena's 65 managers, 40 percent, or 26 of them, are minorities. There is another path for minorities, as well as women, to work in the utility workforce—as contractors. Utilities are government contractors and thus required to have affirmative action programs to reflect the labor pool demographics. The number of overall dollars spent on firms owned by minorities and women has, however, declined. The CPUC revealed last fall that the utilities spent $2.3 billion on nonwhite suppliers in 2000, but the figure dropped to $1.3 billion in 2003. The reason for the decline is not clear, but many attribute it to the downturn in the economy and to the fact that minority-and female-owned businesses have much less capital, said Marshall Kennedy, program analyst for the CPUC's supplier diversity office. Given the changing demographics of the state, with Hispanics and other races soon to outnumber whites, utilities would do well to continue to reflect the diversity of our multihued state. As the months pass, I will continue to ignore the fluffy press releases but keep an eye out for those that show true and much-needed progress. I will also discreetly remind my spouse next month that roses, not shiny balloons, are preferred. <b>Council Aimed at Increasing Diversity<\/b> The California Utilities Diversity Council, which was formed last year, was created to improve diversity at energy, telecommunications, and water companies. The recommendations presented in its first report focus on enhancing opportunities and services for minorities, women, and the disabled related to utility operations in five areas: governance, employment, contracting, charitable contributions, and customer service. While the report, released in mid-December, praises the <i>Fortune<\/i> 500 survey on the best companies for minorities, it warns that the highly regarded study may be terminated because of "cost concerns."