Oct 4, 2015

Survey: Minorities underrepresented in Madison-area business leadership positions

Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal

By Kate Stein

The percentage of minorities in leadership and supervisory positions is lower than the percentage of minorities in the region’s total population.

That’s according to a survey on the diversity of employees at Madison-area businesses.

Area business leadership is “still very heavily white,” said Paul Jadin, Madison Region Economic Partnership president, the corporate- and government-funded economic development agency that conducted the survey. “We all had our preconceived ideas of what our workforce and our boards would look like, and this pretty much confirmed that.”

The survey results, which MadREP first released in May, show that although white employees make up 85.5 percent of the population in the eight-county survey region, they hold 94.9 percent of management and supervisory positions and 96.5 percent of top-level leadership positions.

“That wasn’t at all unexpected,” Jadin said. “It’s what you observe on a day-to-day basis in terms of who you interact with and who are the key players.”

Local business leaders of color also said they were not surprised by the survey documents.

“We have a long way to go,” said Julia Arata-Fratta, a supervisor at Wegner CPAs and a former president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. “You don’t see that many women and minorities sitting around the table on corporate boards.”

“The MadREP survey reveals what we already know,” Lisa Peyton-Caire, an assistant vice president at Summit Credit Union and the founder of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, wrote in an email to the State Journal. “We have the talent in our city, but attracting, engaging and developing that talent in our companies has been a challenge.”

Tim Gaillard, senior vice president and chief operating officer at UW Health and a member of the Madison Network of Black Professionals, said he thinks it’s possible to increase the number of minority business leaders in the area.

Companies, Gaillard said, should make efforts to recruit minority candidates online and through job fairs. They also should increase the visibility of their current minority employees, he said.

“When somebody goes on a website, it would be nice to see people of color,” Gaillard said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a very successful experience … I think it would be great to have more advertising to show people of color that companies are welcoming to them.”

Gaillard acknowledged it can sometimes be challenging for companies to find qualified minority candidates in the Madison area, where, according to the MadREP survey, 85.5 percent of residents are white.

“There’s not a lot of diversity,” Gaillard said. “You have a smaller pool (of minority candidates for leadership positions) to choose from.

“But,” he added, “if you conclude the overall system you serve would be better-served if there were more diversity, then the onus should be on you” to find ways to hire minority leaders.

Arata-Fratta said that in addition to recruiting qualified minority candidates, companies must work to retain minority employees once they hire them.

In companies where most employees are white, minority employees sometimes leave because they feel like “fish from another pond,” she said.

“It’s very hard,” she said. “You have to prove yourself, that you can do the job and you are not a quota.”

Arata-Fratta added that if most of a company’s leaders are white, minority employees may leave because they think staying at the company won’t advance their careers.

“We need to see opportunities to advance,” she said.

Addressing disparity
Although much could be done to increase minority leadership in the Madison area, several organizations already support current and future leaders of color.

The Latino Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Madison Network of Black Professionals and the statewide Hmong Chamber of Commerce, along with other minority-centered business organizations, offer networking opportunities, entrepreneurship guidance and professional development training.

To encourage minority students’ interest in pursuing business leadership roles, there are organizations like UW Health’s HOPE (Health Occupations and Professions Exploration) program, which introduces minority and low-income students to healthcare professionals and administrators, (including Gaillard, the executive sponsor of the program).

In MadREP’s Business & Education Collaborative, business leaders and educators discuss ways in which businesses and schools can together address regional workforce needs, including the need for more minority leadership.

And, two Madison-area organizations have partnered with MadREP to promote the development of business leaders of color.

United Way of Dane County is working with MadREP on a leadership development program called “BoardWalk Academy,” Jadin said.

The academy begins this month and is designed to “assist individuals who may not be typically asked to serve on a board or committee in developing leadership skills, building confidence, and making connections,” according to the United Way website.

In May, MadREP partnered with The Davis Group, a consulting firm that offers cultural competence training and other tools to help companies develop and retain minority employees.

Read the full article.