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Every kind of people

The business case for diversity and inclusion is increasingly evident, but best practices are still a work in progress.

(page 1 of 5)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

When economic development officials talk to out-of-state businesses that are pondering a move to the south-central region, workforce is always at the top of their list — most often number one. Since we’re talking about people and populations, and those populations are gradually changing the demographic face of Greater Madison, it’s safe to say that workforce diversity and inclusion fit hand-in-glove with economic development.

Fortunately, more local for-profit and nonprofit employers understand that their future workforce growth will come from women and people of color. The Madison Regional Economic Partnership, or MadREP, conducts an annual “D&I” survey, and the 2017 report reveals incremental progress. Most notably, 16% of respondents reported having staff dedicated to diversity and inclusion efforts, compared to 10% last year; 7% of top-level leadership positions were held by non-white workers, compared to 4.6% in 2016; and 13.4% of supervisory positions were held by non-white workers, compared to 9.8% in 2016.

While it’s not quantum-leap progress, it is progress that reflects the beginnings of a D&I journey for many local businesses and nonprofits. “Everyone is at a different point on this continuum, from having no diversity and inclusion efforts to being a sterling example,” notes Gene Dalhoff, vice president of talent and education for MadREP. “Everyone falls somewhere on that continuum. Our goal is just to move them further along the line.”

IB spoke to several organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, that have started down the D&I path, and they shared these nine best practices.

1. Engage in introspection

The diversity program of the Overture Center for the Arts was prompted by the Race to Equity study, which catalogued local racial disparities. Overture management put together a subcommittee that met with authors of the study to make sure the organization understood those disparities and “also as a way of questioning ourselves, as a major nonprofit organization and also as an arts organization, as to what responsibility we had to help address some of the issues,” says President and CEO Ted DeDee, “knowing we could not address homelessness but that there were a lot of other things that we did as an organization that could be just a very small piece of the puzzle.”

After conducting focus groups with community leaders, Overture drafted a nine-page document that has become its own racial equity initiative. The plan includes a list of things already being done, as well as a list of aspirational tasks, but it’s focused on four areas: employment and governance, purchasing with vendors of color, arts education, and community engagement.

Looking at its offices, as well as its board of directors, Overture realized that it was not a diverse organization from an employment and governance standpoint, DeDee acknowledges. As part of its D&I initiative, it seeks to make sure the entire community knows that, as an employer, it has job openings from time to time. Not only is Overture looking to develop systems to disseminate that information to diverse communities, it’s also looking at its employment practices and its job descriptions to be seen as a viable employer in every segment of the community. At the time Overture’s plan was formed, only 5% of its board was comprised of people of color, but that has grown to 26%, which demonstrates that progress can be made even in the earliest stages of a D&I initiative.

DeDee cites arts education as an area where more work can be done. Overture applied for Any Given Child, a program developed by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. that enables select communities and schools to ensure that children in grades kindergarten through eight have equity access to the arts. Madison was one of 12 U.S. cities selected to be part of Any Given Child, and is working with Madison schools and other partners to assess what schools have and don’t have.

Over the past 20 years, school children have been getting less rigorous exposure to the arts, and an Overture survey found disparities from one elementary school to another, mostly based on the socio-economic make up of the neighborhood. “This [Any given Child] program was a great model for us to start down that path and identify where there are gaps and what resources we need,” DeDee says.

Regarding community engagement, Overture examined its relationships with people of color, organizations of color, and professional organizations of color. There weren’t many such relationships, a situation that is being addressed by retired Madison school principle Ed Holmes, now Overture’s director of diversity and inclusion. When Holmes came on board, he brought 30-years plus of relationship building, not only to connect Overture with people he knows, but also to see where Overture can collaborate on projects of interest. “We work closely with the Urban League of Greater Madison and any number of organizations to let them know when there are positions that become available,” Holmes says. “Through that networking and through that pipeline, we’re looking to get the word out to a more diverse group of people to be part of the candidate pool.”

2. Expand your horizons

Instead of lamenting about hard-to-find populations of people of color, local organizations are digging a little deeper. Many organizations turn to the same pool of job candidates over and over again when they should think outside the box, or rather outside the region.

The first step is to post more balanced, inclusive job postings. Angela Russell, director of diversity and inclusion for CUNA Mutual Group, says company recruiters are working with hiring managers to make sure its job postings are inclusive, and they are getting some help from technology. “There are apps on the internet that you can put in a job posting to tell you whether the wording is more masculine versus feminine, and how they speak to different genders,” she notes. “The idea is to create balance in a job description so you’re not describing a male-sounding position versus a female-sounding position and vice versa. If you have a balance of both types of wording, you’ll get more applicants.”

The next step is to broaden your network. If you want to reach a larger pool of potential applicants, Russell says it’s incumbent on hiring managers to build relationships with people “who aren’t just like them.” It’s uncomfortable and it requires a special quality of effort, but sometimes “it’s the most productive kind of D&I work — going to events, building relationships with folks, and growing your network intentionally,” Russell states.

CUNA Mutual is building its network with FOCUS, a collegiate competition that helps business organizations raise their profiles with prospective employees at historically black colleges. As a result, more than 40% of CUNA Mutual’s intern class is comprised of students of color, and it’s never been that high before. “What that’s doing is creating brand awareness of CUNA Mutual as a potential employer,” Russell says, “and we’re having the students come here to gain exposure to Wisconsin and to CUNA Mutual as an organization.”

Overture is looking to create an internship program so that students in music, theater, and dance programs at historically black colleges can serve as stagehands and get a behind-the-scenes look at theatrical productions. The organization just completed negotiations with stagehands over a new contract, and there are few people of color among 75 or 80 stagehands, a situation that’s not unique to Madison. The internships would require foundation or donor support, but according to DeDee the idea is to “help fund and provide this experience, with the hope that at the end of that experience they could either stay on here, or they can go back to their hometown or someplace where they could then be a qualified stagehand, a lighting or rigging specialist, or sound or audio engineer.”

DeDee sees an opportunity linked to Overture’s May 2018 presentation of the Broadway musical On Your Feet. Now touring the U.S., the show is about the musical journey of Gloria and Emilio Estefan of the Miami Sound Machine, and Overture would like to find actors who are bilingual and who can play the parts without being on stage. Rather, they would be in an observation booth in the back of Overture Hall doing a simultaneous translation while the show is taking place — something that has never been done before. That means using Latino organizations to help get the word out, and that goes back to the relationship building that Holmes has been doing throughout his first year with Overture.

“That’s one part of it, and that in itself takes a lot of coordination,” DeDee notes. “The simultaneous translation is no good unless you have people who might be interested in it, so from a marketing standpoint we need to do bilingual announcements about the fact that we’re doing bilingual performances and that we’re reaching out to people who can do that.”

In some cases, organizations are proactively creating pools of diverse prospects. Agrace, a Madison-based hospice facility, wanted to improve its pool of certified nursing assistants. Agrace knows there’s a larger, diverse pool for this entry-level position, so it created a certified nursing assistance scholarship program for high school minority students and minority returning adults.

“With that, we improved our outreach to employees that are interested and not only in that open position, but perhaps pursuing higher education in nursing occupations and careers,” explains Brenda Gonzalez, diversity manager for Agrace. “We have made an investment that not only changes the human resources policy on recruitment, but also is invested in the community by partnering with organizations to improve that pool of diverse candidates.”

Tom Osting, vice president of support and development, and Melody Hanson, director of recruitment and outreach for Environment Control of Wisconsin, have overseen a 20% increase in their Latino employees and increased diversification of leadership positions. They have established a bilingual recruiter position now filled by Maria Torres, and a bilingual operations manager to address language barriers.

Increased diversity would not have been possible without a more inclusive rewrite of a company job posting (see page 37). The posting emphasized that Environment Control has more than 400 employees from various religious and ethnic backgrounds, it addressed what management promises employees, and it invited interested candidates to personally call or text Torres or Hanson. The resulting flood of responses filled virtually all open positions — 16% of all positions were open as of early May — and the welcoming tone gave job candidates a sense of what the company is about.

The company hired 39 people in May and 34 in June, and roughly 60% of the new hires are African-Americans. “We have fielded all of these inquiries,” Hanson notes, “and I put in the ad to call or text me personally, that I would like to meet you, and they are. They are making that extra effort.”


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