Creating Workplace Diversity in Dane County

Diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism whether you are a small organization or large, complex business. Diversity in the workplace is necessary to foster an economy and culture that supports bringing people together with different qualifications, backgrounds, and experiences that are essential in the workplace. As our region continues to grow, it’s important to harness the talent of all racial and ethnic groups, capitalizing on their  expertise and contributions that will make our community a better place for all to live.

Over the years, disparities in the workplace have been well reported and documented. I believe, if we don’t begin to narrow the unemployment gap, the racial achievement gap among our kids will be much harder to close in the  years to come. In Dane County we have more than 5,000 businesses and more nonprofits per capita than any other city in America, yet governance and executive leadership positions at many of these businesses and nonprofits are either in the single digits, or in some cases zero digits, for people of color.

Diversity at Boys & Girls Club and Results

Boys & Girls Club of Dane County has made a major impact on empowering, supporting, and shaping kids’ lives in Dane County for almost two decades. Today the organization has 191 full-time, part-time, and contractual employees working in 10 schools and communities in Madison, Fitchburg, Verona, Oregon, and Sun Prairie. Boys & Girls Club decided to spend the last three years building a workforce that reflects the students we serve. We wanted to lead by example by providing our 4,400+ children and their families with a team of professionals that resembles the population it serves.

The Club has been very intentional in hiring and retaining people with different qualifications, backgrounds and experiences. As a result, the Club believes it has become one of the most diverse workplaces in Dane County—60% of our leadership team are women and 53% are people of color.  Among our  direct care staff our workforce is made up of 81% women, 19% men and 53% people of color. Moreover, our Board of Directors has improved diversity and inclusion, with 20% of our Directors being women and people of color. Their range of experience includes being parents, corporate executives, lawyers, bankers, risk managers, developers, and public safety executives, to name a few. Our Club has embraced workplace diversity at both the governance and leadership levels. As a result, we believe our diversity and reach to different communities has helped us experience record growth in membership, record growth in revenue, record growth in employee engagement, and record performance in youth outcomes.

Here are some highlights of the Club results:

  • So far this year, the Club graduated 113 seniors; more than 70% of them are students of color. Every one of these students are going to college through our AVID/TOPS Program and for five years in a row more than 90% of our kids are graduating from high school and going to college. This program is now the largest public/private partnership in MMSD, with more than 1,000 students enrolled in the program;
  • The Club secured a multi-year education grant through Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation to serve hundreds of students from diverse groups in the Verona Area School District, making the Club the largest educational support partner in their district and this partnership is showing great promise for students of color and low income students;
  • This year the Club placed 209 students in paid internships at 32 different businesses in Dane County.
  • These students are our future workforce and this summer they collectively earned close to a half million dollars in seven weeks.
  • The Club announced the John & Jo Ellen McKenzie Scholarship Fund that will provide a $100,000 college scholarship for one lucky student this year to attend college. We believe this is the largest scholarship ever offered to a single student in Dane County;
  • The Club led an effort to provide 1,200 kids from various backgrounds with workshops and classes on how to engage with law enforcement officials through a countywide Youth and Unity Summit during a challenging time in our region;
  • The Club is building out a STEM lab that will teach kids about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math to help prepare them for potential employment opportunities in the region;

I believe that having a team with different backgrounds and experience has allowed the Club to better serve children and families who come from different races and cultures. Below are some principles the Club has embraced to improve diversity and inclusion. Here are ten recommendations to improve diversity and inclusion in your workplace.

  1. Identify your needs: Does your team resemble the communities in which you do business or operate? If not, develop a hiring and retention strategy to increase workforce diversity.
  2. Establish relationships: Develop relationships and working agreements with local organizations that have community connections, such as communities of faith, cultural institutions, community centers, as well as faculty members at local colleges and universities who can help you recruit potential candidates of color.
  3. Enlist help from nonprofits: Work with groups like the Urban League of Greater Madison, Hmong Education Council, 100 Black Men of Madison, Madison Network of Black Professionals, Latino Support Network of Dane County, The Southern Hmong Association of Wisconsin, Centro Hispano, The Davis Group and the Latino Chamber of Commerce, to name a few. The internet and Skype have made it easier to conduct interviews and to cast a wider net for exploring potential candidates.
  4. Be culturally sensitive: Make sure images are cultural inclusive and that your organization communicates that it welcomes and embrace diversity. Also make sure your hiring committee has a diverse makeup. Many times my organization will use social media and sites like LinkedIn to send personal invitations for potential candidates to apply. We also use volunteers on our hiring committees, and we recruit in markets that will help increase our potential pool of candidates.
  5. Provide diversity training: Designate a lead person to serve as your engagement officer.  Your hiring managers should understand that hiring decisions must be based on finding the best candidate and not simply filling quotas. The most qualified person should always be hired, but a diverse selection of candidates should always be considered.
  6. Hire people of color in leadership positions: Make sure leaders of color have budget and hiring authority, and find ways to retain them. It’s important for your workforce to see a leadership team that is inclusive. It is also important to retain these employees—retaining your colleagues can often be more difficult than recruiting them. This is especially true for less diverse communities like Madison and Dane County, where relocated employees of color may feel disconnected.
  7. Ask your colleagues for referrals: Your colleagues can be a great resource and since they will likely have peers in the industry who may be looking for work. The existing relationship with a colleague can help new employees adjust to their new role and their new location. Also consider offering rewards for successful referrals.
  8. Give new hires a reason to stay: Devote time and effort in retaining new hires by offering days off that are important to them. Offer competitive salaries, benefits and communicate opportunities for advancement.
  9. Ensure that the Board and Chief Executive is committed: These leaders need to be committed to a workplace diversity plan that has measurable outcomes tied to annual performance goals.
  10. Conduct employee engagement surveys: My leadership team and the Board of Directors conducts a confidential 360-degree assessment of my leadership performance every other year. This gives my colleagues an opportunity to provide honest feedback as a way to help with my professional development.

As our community looks to create a more diverse workforce in the region, we must acknowledge, understand, accept, value, and appreciate the differences among people with respect to factors such as race, age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities, sexual orientation, spiritual practice and marital status, to name a few. Let’s step outside of our comfort zones and create a workforce that make our organizations stronger and collectively our communities stronger.

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