City Life

Equity By Design consults organizations on diversity and inclusion

Annette Miller has a lot of expertise in this area

“When you make people whole, you don’t have to fill gaps.” 

Civic and business leader Annette Miller reminded me of this while we were chatting about her latest career move. The concept sounds so simple, so innocuous, and maybe it would be in a community where the racial achievement gap hasn’t dominated our heads and hearts for the last half decade. But it’s not, and that’s why she’s now offering her vast experience and expertise on the subject matter to area businesses and organizations. 

A 25-year career in the governmental and private sectors along with service on nonprofit boards have given Miller a unique and invaluable perspective on race and equity. She has invested countless hours of personal and professional time in creating a more inclusive Madison, which she is now leveraging into a new entrepreneurial venture called Equity By Design LLC. It’s a consulting company that helps organizations develop and organize their strategies around how they engage with and relate to diverse communities around them.

She starts with focus groups to explore policies and processes, and then designs systems that meet the needs of employers, employees and customers. In short, she tells me, her role is to “take words and make them actions.” 

“I’ve demonstrated I’m committed.”

And then some, I think to myself as Miller describes her path from government to business to entrepreneurship. I’ve seen Miller’s commitment firsthand. Together with colleagues at Madison Magazine and the Madison Area Diversity Roundtable, Miller and I launched Spectrum Magazine, a publication created to promote diversity in our community as well as to recruit and retain a diverse workforce for some of the area’s largest employers.

While I could give you the customary list of Miller’s myriad other accomplishments in this space, I would rather say this: She is the real deal. Miller shows up, rolls up her sleeves and gets to work on whatever it is that’s in front of her. Her practical, thoughtful and unwavering voice on community issues and concerns matters; her contributions have made a difference. A 2013 induction as a YWCA Madison Woman of Distinction, a Badger Bioneer Award from Sustain Dane and a Reverend James C. Wright Human Rights Award from the city Equal Opportunities Commission are just three of the many recognitions of excellence she has received thus far. I imagine there’s more to come.

“Anywhere I turn, the support is there.”

Like any good Midwesterner, Miller is quick to credit those who’ve supported her daring life leap—colleagues, mentors and teachers at Edgewood College, where she spent three years working on a social innovation and sustainable leadership master’s degree. “I needed a space to think,” she says. “Going back to school helped me explore more fully my theory about living sustainably, creating a sustainable community and digging deep into equity and inclusion.”

She completed the program with full support from MGE and continued to be the company’s director of emerging markets and community development until transitioning from employee to consultant earlier this year. 

Family encouragement and inching closer to age 50 were other motivating factors. A member of Generation X, Miller talks about feeling caught between two dynamic demographics: baby boomers, many of whom are finding second and third careers that are more flexible and satisfying, and millennials, who are disrupting what life and work look like in bold and unapologetic ways. “I asked myself the question: Why can’t you do that?” she says. And so she did.

Miller says she has wanted to be an entrepreneur from a young age; she dreamed of having her own bookstore. All these years later, she says, she connected the dots of family, community and career and came up with the idea to help organizations and workplaces manage change “so we can all be better together.”

Miller tells me that despite the inherent risks and challenges she faces, she is satisfied with her decision. No matter what happens next, “I still will be so proud of myself that I did it.”

Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at brennannardi@gmail.com.


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