City Life

Local workplaces focus on diversity

Workplaces surveyed on approaches to inclusivity

For a business to build a workforce that reflects the changing demographics of the population it serves, commitment must come from the top and permeate the organization through inclusive policies and practices. That’s according to local businesses that answered questions about diversity—and scored highest among other survey respondents—for Madison Magazine’s 2017 Best Places to Work survey. 

UW Credit Union noted in a survey response that it is committed to “becoming a more diverse, inclusive and culturally competent organization.” Laura Gottfredsen-Nemetz, manager of talent and organizational development at UW Credit Union, wrote in her survey response that the organization’s board of directors and executive team recently made a commitment to diversity in its five-year strategic plan. She said UW Credit Union strives to cultivate a workplace where employees “feel valued and respected” for skills, experiences and perspectives.

Spencer Goracke, workplace insights analyst at Quantum Workplace—the Omaha-based company that conducted this year’s Best Places to Work survey—agrees that top executives must understand why diversity and inclusion are important to a company’s success. “The best organizational leaders seek to lead a diverse workplace not for the sake of hitting quotas, but because having a diverse and inclusive workplace makes your work product better,” he says.

UW Credit Union has a staff of 420 and indicated that three of its senior-level managers are employees of color, five others are managers of color and 65 of its employees of color are nonmanagers. Goracke says the actual percentages of findings are comparable to other large companies (with 101 or more employees) nationwide that also shared information on their diverse workforces. 

United Way of Dane County, a medium-sized company with 58 employees, listed a variety of ways it addresses diversity and says it is aggressive in being inclusive in the workplace. 

“Through a constant listening and learning process, we are proud to strive every day for a workplace that is diverse, inclusive and equitable,” says Renee Moe, president and CEO of United Way of Dane County. “We are humble enough to know that won’t happen overnight, but optimistic enough to try.” 

Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., with 189 employees, said in its survey response that it accepts each person as an individual. “Fairway’s success and competitiveness is built on its ability to embrace diversity. Everyone should feel valued for their contributions,” wrote Kalyn Lewis, organizational development specialist at Fairway.

Widen Enterprises says it approaches diversity (in its workplace of 100 employees) by hiring people with developmental disabilities through a program coordinated by the Madison nonprofit Community Support Network. “Five percent of the Widen workforce has a developmental disability that may include Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other challenges,” wrote Heather Kleist, a human resources generalist at Widen, adding: “Embracing the dignity of the human person by looking beyond the surface to understand another perspective is an empathetic trait” strengthened by these working relationships.

Short Stack Eatery, a small restaurant with 28 employees, says it’s planning for what it wants its organization to look like in 2022, “specifically around race, ethnicity, age, education level, religious affiliation and sexual orientation.” According to Alex Lindenmeyer, co-owner of the independent diner, two partnerships have been created “to ensure we start hiring from more diverse pools, as well as integrated diversity questions/talking points into our interview/hiring process.”

Mark Richardson, president of Unfinished Business and CEO of GigBlender in Madison, says a key ingredient in building a diverse workforce is to be intentional. 

“It’s not a destination, it’s a journey,” Richardson said in an interview. “You don’t just wake up one day and get into work and it’s a diverse workplace. You have to go through the process of making it important.”

Richardson serves on a diversity and inclusiveness committee for the Madison Regional Economic Partnership, known as MadREP, and says the local area has seen some small gains in recent years, as evidenced by some findings in MadREP’s annual diversity survey. But there’s much more work to be done, he says.

Two key findings of 2017 MadREP survey: 
  • Large majorities of Madison-region employers are white, as are boards of directors, top-level leadership and other supervisors. 
  • Few employers have a formal diversity statement, workforce demographic goals, staff dedicated to diversity and inclusion efforts, supplier diversity programs or initiatives to develop spending with historically underutilized businesses. 

Karen Lincoln Michel is the editor of Madison Magazine.

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