A panel of utility executives all agreed on the need to expand the diversity of their companies' workforces and contractors to better reflect the color of the state during an October 26 hearing at the state Capitol. The day after the death of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, utility officials discussed impediments to attaining that goal and their efforts to bolster equal opportunity in the utility world over the next 10 years-when large numbers of the predominantly white male workers are expected to retire. The executive panel was, however, devoid of women, much to the consternation of Senator Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) and California Public Utilities Commission member Dian Grueneich. "Your numbers are abysmal," Escutia said, referring to the lack of female representation in the upper echelons. Grueneich added that in the last decade, the number of women on utility boards increased only from 9 percent to 11 percent. There are no women on Sempra Energy's 11-member board of directors. It includes two minority males: an African-American and an Asian-American. Edison's 10-member voting board includes one woman, a Latina. It also includes an African-American man and a Latino. PG&E Corp.'s board of 10 members includes three women, none of color; two African- American men; and a Latino. Escutia asked the panel members to provide specifics on the companies' outreach efforts. Former Assemblymember Gwen Moore, who authored legislation that brought workforce diversity to the forefront, noted the common problem of "those who are looking not looking broadly enough." Diversity is "always better," said Sempra spokesperson Jennifer Andrews, noting that two female Sempra board members retired recently. "We don't have quotas," she said, adding, "We are always looking to retain the highest-quality individual regardless of race or gender." PG&E president and CEO-elect Tom King said finding a female minority board member "has always been a priority." The matter boils down to finding the "right person," he said. While the regulated entities are prodded to include more women and minorities at the very top of the corporate ladder, the biggest hurdle utilities face in increasing diversity in the workforce on a more general level is the dismal state of the educational system, particularly in math and science, according to several witnesses. In addition, studies point to the scandalous dropout rate of Latinos, African-Americans, and other minority teenagers, which further undermines workforce diversity. The most difficult recruitment area, witnesses said, is the skilled trades, which include engineers, linesmen\/women, and welders. In spite of falling short of the diversity goals, utility workforces are some of the most diverse of U.S. businesses. The three investor-owned utilities, for example, have all won awards for their workplace diversity (Circuit, Jan. 14, 2005). Escutia applauded Sempra for its apprentice program to draw nonwhites into the linesman trade. Other areas that do not adequately reflect the state's diverse population are financial, legal, and information services. "The results are not encouraging," said Arthur Jimenez, CPUC manager of supplier diversity. The utilities are also working to increase services in languages other than English. Representatives agree that language skills now fall short of the need. Under commission rules, the diversity goals of utilities in procurement are as follows: 15 percent of contracts are to be awarded to minority business, 5 percent to women-owned companies, and 1.5 percent to disabled veteran-owned enterprises. According to the CPUC 2004 utility diversity supplier report, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and SoCal Gas exceeded the 15 percent target for minority-owned business contracts. Women-owned firms received more than 5 percent of contracts signed by Edison, PG&E, and SoCal Gas. None of the utilities reached the 1.5 percent procurement goal set for firms owned by disabled veterans. In 2004, minority businesses received $178 million, or 11.1 percent, of PG&E's outside contracts, up from $171.8 million, or 10.8 percent, the year before. Women-owned businesses won $101.7 million of PG&E's contracts, or 6.4 percent, last year, up from 5.9 percent, or $19.7 million, in 2003. Disabled vets' business contracts dropped to $16.4 million from $19.7 million in 2003. Edison signed $293.9 million worth of contracts with nonwhite businesses, 16.4 percent of 2004 contracts. The year before, it awarded $224.9 million, or 16 percent of its contracts, to minority firms. Women?s businesses reaped $107.3 million, 5.9 percent of the contracts, up from last year?s total of $68.5 million, representing 4.8 percent. Disabled vets were awarded $2.1 million, compared to $1 million in 2003. Of SDG&E's supplier procurement, minority businesses received $82.5 million, a 17.4 percent share. The previous year, this category of businesses won $68.7 million, or 14.4 percent of the contract pie. Women?s firms won $17.3 million in contracts last year, representing a 3.6 percent share, compared with $142 million, 2.9 percent, in 2003. Disabled vet contractors dropped to 0.09 percent of the suppliers, or $42,900, compared to 0.13 percent, $609,000, the previous year. Minority-owned businesses' share of SoCal Gas's contracts with minorities dropped. Last year they won $61.1 million, or 17.4 percent, down from $62.7 million, an 18.4 percent share of procurement agreements. Women-owned businesses also saw a drop in contract dollars last year. The utility awarded $32.1 million to female firms, or 9.3 percent, down slightly from $33.7 million, or 9.9 percent of the procurement deals. In spite of the strides utilities have made, Escutia and others did not see it as "time for congratulations." CPUC member Geoffrey Brown summed up the sentiments of his fellow commissioners: "We want to make sure we don't become a society of the elite."