Every kind of people

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

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.”



3. Onboard with purpose

The onboarding process has been described as a first opportunity to improve retention, especially when it emphasizes diversity. At CUNA Mutual, everyone goes through an orientation during which D&I is mentioned as one of the company’s important objectives. New hires learn of its 12 employee resource groups (aka affinity groups) and are encouraged to join one, and Russell advises them to build their network within the organization.

“When I hired our two D&I consultants, I gave them a list of 15 to 20 people they needed to meet in the organization so they could start building their network, and that part is critical,” Russell says. “As I think about other organizations, I know there are cultural and social norms that you may not be able to change. Our culture is about relationships, and it’s important that new employees know that so they understand they are not coming into some secret society.”

4. Keep it fresh

One challenge D&I managers have is preventing their programs from becoming the flavor of the month, so keeping things fresh is crucial. According to Russell, when organizations talk about diversity and inclusion, it’s often based on race and gender. While such visible characteristics are important, it’s also vital to focus on the invisible characteristics of diversity such as sexual orientation, religion, and mental health status.

With this in mind, CUNA Mutual has built a comprehensive learning series that touches on the less visible aspects of workplace diversity. “We are intentionally including a variety of different aspects of diversity so that everybody feels part of the diversity paradigm,” Russell states.

Another way to keep D&I fresh is through continual refinement. Organizations should evaluate where they still have room for improvement, and one way to do that is to review how policy decisions impact various employee populations. Russell’s advice is to think about who is benefitting and who is burdened?

5. Have their backs

To show solidarity with its Latino employees, a team from Environment Control of Wisconsin took part in the “A Day Without Latinos” march in Madison.

At the risk of getting political, sometimes minority employees need their employer to back them up on public-policy issues. Environment Control permitted employees to take part in the 2017 “Day Without Latinos” rally at the State Capitol. Complete with a large banner, several Hispanic employees took part in the Feb. 13 rally and chose to come to work that evening, a Monday.

“Maria [Torres] said to me that if we could go to the event as a company and show our support for Latino employees, and that we let them know we’re going to do it, maybe they would choose to come to work on Monday night,” Hanson says, “and so we got a banner made, I went out there with Maria, and we participated in the event. Ahead of time, we sent a letter out to all of our employees telling them that we really support them and we are encouraged that they are with the company and we know this issue is very important to them, they are valued by us, and that is an important aspect of our ethos here.”

6. Define inclusion properly

When training businesses on D&I, Russell often reminds them that inclusion is not about asking people to conform to the chosen norms of the majority. That’s assimilation, she notes, and knowing the difference between inclusion and not asking someone to conform to the set cultural norms of an organization is where D&I work is headed.

Brenda Gonzalez, diversity manager for Agrace, a Madison hospice care provider, says organizations are wise to view inclusion as part and parcel to diversity. “We know that diversity is important, but it’s nothing without the inclusion process,” she notes. “It’s important to look at numbers and data but without stories, the way others are able to share with the community, it’s not enough.”



7. Partner with community

Agrace has seen diversity improvements in terms of its patients, volunteers, and staff. The organization recognized the changing demographics of Dane County, particularly the growing Latino populations, and it collaborates with several community organizations, including Centro Hispano and the Latino Health Council of Dane County.

These partnerships were instrumental in understanding how Agrace needed to approach the Latino community. The creation of culturally relevant fotonovelas and radionovelas, tools it often uses to explain what hospice is and the specific services that Agrace provides in a linguistically and culturally appropriate way, have been effective means of communication.

“The fotonovela is really simple,” Gonzalez explains. “We work to ensure that health lingo in publications is simple to understand and focuses on the story of our patients and the conversations we know they have with their families and their loved ones about their circumstances, their culture, and their cultural beliefs, religion, and immigration issues.”

Agrace has attempted to connect with its group of volunteers and make them part of the family, even if they are part of a different workforce. One example is its collaboration with Hy Cite Enterprises, which has offered its bilingual employees to serve as volunteers for Latino patients. The arrangement brings benefits to both organizations — Agrace can offer another level of comfort to its Latino patients and their families, and Hy Cite can offer Latino employees, which comprise about 75% of its 400-member workforce, a meaningful way to engage with the community.

The collaboration began after Agrace president and CEO Lynne Sexten described an experience with a Hispanic patient who had struggled with the language barrier because Agrace did not have many bilingual speakers within its organization. About 25 Hy Cite employees followed through with the necessary training, and they help with translating and conversing with patients to make them feel more comfortable.

“We have employees who want not only to give money but also give of their time to help make this a better community,” explains Erik Johnson, CEO and chairman of Hy Cite. “That’s what the employees get out of it. That’s important to them, and we as a company always want to make sure we’re incenting our employees to be involved in the community and to give back.”

8. Measure what you can

How do organizations measure D&I progress? Obviously, they can take the long view and be very methodical about D&I and still make progress at various milestones, but how do they know they’re making progress? Is it empirical data or is it something you notice in the way employees are acting to make a concerted change?

Russell looks at progress in a variety of ways. One of her internal partners is the Human Resources Department, which has an insights and analytics team. “We are looking at particular metrics even though we have a broad view of data, but what we can measure are race and gender. We’re also looking at our hiring, promotions, and our attrition rate. So I know that we’re doing a better job in terms of hiring, but we’re not doing as well as we should in terms of people remaining with the organization. To me, that raises an inclusion issue, so we’re working with our employee resource groups to figure out what causes you to stay versus what caused you to leave?”

The Overture Center’s Holmes suggests starting with a baseline and measuring future progress against that baseline. Where is the organization at the beginning? Where are you now? How do you define success going forward? What metrics and values should you use to evaluate progress? Should everything be based on hard data because when it comes to the performance arts, “There is an intrinsic value that is difficult to measure,” Holmes notes.

9. Concentrate on consumers

CUNA Mutual now has a vice president of multicultural market strategy, Eric Hansing, and he’s focused on the changing market and the changing demographics of the multicultural consumer. He has been with the company for 20 years, and with his knowledge of processes and services, he had instant credibility. As a result, the business case of the changing demographic is better understood. It’s an interesting conversation because organizations have to think about diversity with the workforce, suppliers, and customers. “People now understand the business case more because of Eric coming from the product side,” Russell explains. “He’s been able to open some eyes, and that’s helped D&I even more.”

Beyond human resources

Perhaps the most important organizational advice is that advancing diversity is not just a task for HR or the D&I shop, Russell says. “We wouldn’t be as far along on the D&I journey if we didn’t have key partners, such as our head of recruiting, our head of multicultural marketing setting the market strategy, the person who leads our community relationships — all of them are so key in implementing D&I across the company.”



Resourceful talent gains exposure

Employee resource groups have many benefits from the standpoint of building an inclusive culture, and in some cases they help employees advance their careers.

Such is the case with Opal Tomashevska, multicultural business strategy manager for CUNA Mutual Group.

Opal Tomashevska shares her spoken-word talents by reciting a poem during the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s annual IceBreaker event at the Kohl Center.

As a member of the company’s African-American ERG, Tomashevska’s talents in spoken word, including her ability to craft poems about financial services, gained notice with fellow group members and eventually with CUNA Mutual’s highest-ranked executives. One of those who took notice was Angela Russell, director of diversity and inclusion, who refers to Tomashevska’s evolution as a “D&I story” because she started as an administrative project coordinator in wealth management and her spoken-word gifts have changed her career trajectory.

“After one of our senior executives saw Opal read poetry about financial services and multicultural consumers and diversity and inclusion, he asked her to write a piece of poetry for all of the wealth managers in the organization,” Russell recounted. “She went down to Atlanta to perform, and she would have never had that opportunity if she had not been engaged in the employee resource group.”

Tomashevska has been performing hip-hop and poetry since her college days at UW–Parkside, but she had kept academic and artistic pursuits separate until graduate school at Edgewood College, where she ended up using the latter for a final project. That’s when she realized there could be a broader audience for her particular talent.

Within her ERG, where violence against African-Americans is often discussed, she was encouraged to recite poetry and wrote a poem about Tony Robinson, who was killed in a police-involved shooting in March of 2015. Tomashevska recalls how well received it was. “Angela [Russell] happened to be in that ERG meeting and an hour later, when she was preparing an executive education curriculum, she thought it would it be cool if we could incorporate spoken word at the end of it so we could tie in diversity and inclusion with the professional marketing that Eric Hansing [VP of multicultural market strategy] is doing.

“Angela gave me some things that she wanted me to hit on there,” Tomashevska continued, “and then I wrote one and tied it back to the credit union movement and our mission. I was able to share it with many of our executives, and it ended very well with everyone, and it was a great fit with what Eric and Angela had presented.”

It was the first time many CUNA Mutual executives had seen Tomashevska, and since then, the company has made sure others have, as well. In addition to the national sales meeting in Atlanta, where she was asked to create a motivational piece for credit union financial advisors, she’s appeared before several other groups, including the annual Madison Chamber of Commerce IceBreaker at the Kohl Center.

She has also been promoted to a position where she and a cross-functional team of people can influence the multicultural market strategy that Hansing is crafting and refining. “It’s a new position where I can do something that I’ve been talking about in my poems, and I think that I’ve been able to demonstrate passion and understanding for our mission, strategy, and values in a unique way,” Tomashevska says. “It’s still hard to believe that spoken word has helped me grow in my career.”

The ERG gave Tomashevska the faith to know she could share it, which is why she’s eternally grateful to her employer. “We know we have so much backing,” she notes. “We feel it’s one of the best benefits we have, and I’m really hoping other companies move in this direction. It’s not a traditional way to communicate in corporate America, and it’s just a blessing that it’s been so well received.”

Audience diversity = customer diversity

One thing Ted DeDee appreciates about the Overture Center is that its programming has always featured diverse artists, even before the performing arts facility embarked down its diversity and inclusion path. However, the same could not be said about its audience composition, and that’s one of the objectives of the D&I program now unfolding.

“What Overture has never done, until we started down this diversity path, is to be very specific about making sure that certain communities and certain audiences in Madison knew about the performances,” he acknowledges, “and go out of our way to invite them and if need be, fundraise to provide additional access to people who might not be able to afford it.”

In DeDee’s view, it’s not just about looking for new audiences that can’t afford to come to shows, it’s about removing any barriers that may exist, real or imagined, about whether a public entity like Overture cares about diverse audiences. That’s one of the areas where Ed Holmes, who serves as director of diversity and inclusion for Overture, has devoted most of his time.


A former high school principal in Madison, Holmes has used his connections to strengthen the bonds between Overture and under-represented segments of the community. “I’ve been going out to different organizations to meet with different individuals and leaders in the community and inviting them to shows that I believe would resonate with them,” he explains. “As result, people started coming through the door.”

As part of a community partner program done in conjunction with the Frostiball, which is Overture’s annual fundraising event, Holmes reached out to 32 different organizations; in so doing, he doubled the number of community partners for Overture and hopes to triple that number next year.

Holmes is pleased by what he has to sell. “The one thing I will say about Overture that I was not aware of before I came on board is the quality and the breadth of the diverse programming that happens here.”

The facility has hosted acts such as Boyz II Men and Patti LaBelle, Maraca and His Latin Jazz All-Stars in conjunction with the Latino Art Fair, and the First Wave scholarship program of the UW–Madison Office of Multicultural Arts. It also hosted and co-sponsored the second annual Black Women’s Leadership Conference, where additional outreach was discussed.

“The words I like to use are intentional and deliberate,” Holmes says. “We are intentional about the work, and we take a deliberate approach to making sure we’re doing what we need to do to connect people to Overture and offer a positive experience.”



A job posting that worked

Organizations that are serious about diversity and inclusion must take a comprehensive approach, starting with more inclusive and inviting job postings. Since the job posting is the first opportunity to inform people that a position
is open, it’s an opportune time to cast a wider net.

Toward that end, we’ll share segments of a successful posting (on Indeed.com) from Environment Control of Wisconsin, which generated more than 100 inquiries in less than a month and enabled the company to diversify its janitorial workforce.

“Environment Control is a cleaning company owned and operated by Tom & Melody Hanson. Our company is made up of more than 400 people from all walks of life and has much diversity of cultures, religions, and nations, which we believe makes us a great company to join. We are building a company that cares about people. All are welcome.

“We are looking for people to join our team who like the idea of hard work and fair pay.

“Our promise to our employees is to provide:

  • Honest and fair treatment by management and coworkers.
  • Three days of training and extra support throughout your first few weeks; ongoing supervision.
  • All the materials required for you to do a good job.
  • A raise program that has specific and tangible ways to grow your wage.
  • If you want it, a consistent schedule that does not change.

“We believe our success as a company depends on our employees’ job satisfaction from cleaners to office staff to management. Our goal as a company is to encourage and support you, as well as provide excellent and consistent cleaning service to our customers.”

The posting also invited candidates to text or call Maria Torres, bilingual coordinator, or Melody Hanson, director of recruitment and outreach, or stop by the office to fill out an application.

It resulted in the hiring of 39 people in May and 34 people in June.

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