BGE, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation which provides more than 1.8 million Baltimore and Central Maryland customers with electricity and gas, signed an agreement with the federal government on Sept. 25 which acknowledges that the company failed to take the necessary steps to ensure diversity in a pool of employees hired in entry level positions between Dec. 2007 and Nov. 2008, according to company President & CEO Kenneth W. DeFontes, Jr.
About 58 applicants were affected. Along with the admission, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company officials agreed to pay a fine of $350,000 to the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (FCCP), which will be divided among the applicants. DeFontes told the AFRO that the company will also hire at least six of the applicants who were turned away.
The finding came after FCCP auditors investigated the company’s hiring practices as part of a routine check to make sure the company, a government contractor, was complying with affirmative action programs. Investigators looked at 232 job classifications, DeFontes said.
“In 229, we came out fine,” DeFontes said. “But in three categories involving entry-level trainees for field jobs, we were below where we should have been.”
According to the BGE website, the company serves “more than 1.2 million electric customers and more than 650,000 gas customers in an economically diverse, 2,300-square-mile area encompassing Baltimore City and all or part of 10 Central Maryland counties.”
DeFontes said positions affected included cable splicer trainees, cable installer trainees and others.
He said even before the audit’s results were announced, however, company administrators had identified the problem “as part of a wholesale look at our whole program.”
To ensure diversity, he said, BGE now hires minorities for 30 percent of new positions; the overwhelming percentage are Black. BGE employs about 3,350 employees; 23 percent are minority and 22 percent are women, according to statistics provided by a spokeswoman. DeFontes said 80 percent of the company's minorities are Black.
Calvin G. Butler, Jr., BGE’s senior vice president of External and Regulatory Affairs, the highest-ranking African American in the company, said he was “disappointed” when he learned about the violation after coming on board a few months ago.
But he commended company officials for taking steps to correct the problem.
“You didn’t want the reputation of the organization to suffer because [people] worked hard to build a reputation within the community,” he said. “You didn’t want employees to feel [negatively] about the organization.”
Among the changes, DeFontes said, was revising a referral program that he admitted might have resulted in a less than “diverse pool of candidates.” He said the training program was revamped to ensure that it was “diverse and inclusive” by ensuring that those involved in the hiring progress, including HR professionals, were ethnically varied. The company also spent $1.6 million to initiate a new system to track applicants. He said the company also signed amemorandum of understanding with the Public Service Commission of Maryland in 2009, the same year the audit was conducted, to hire minority companies for 25 percent of its supply purchases. This year, the company has achieved 15 percent of minority supply hiring, partly by asking White firms to subcontract part of their work to minority companies, DeFontes said.
DeFontes said the company has also established a company-wide diversity steering committee and he chairs an additional diversity committee. He said the company also implemented a series of “employee resource groups” for minorities and gays at the company.
Employees were notified of the agreement on Sept. 25 via email, Butler said.
DeFontes visited the AFRO's Baltimore office as he traveled to several local media outlets to discuss the situation.
“I believe we are doing the right thing to identify and correct the problem,” he said.
“It’s important to how we function as an organization to embrace diversity and inclusion.”
Butler agreed. He urged members of the public to watch to see that the company has moved forward in a positive way.
“We have to earn your trust every day,” he said. “If we say we are going to be this kind of organization, hold us accountable for it.”