The lead attorney on two recent high-profile discrimination cases, Stan Davis is also founder of The Davis Group, a consulting firm that helps companies and organizations meet their diversity goals. He also served as deputy chief of staff and chief legal counsel under Governor Jim Doyle.
Rank your Top 70s-80s Funk/R&B Groups.
- Earth Wind & Fire
- Gap Band
Which motivates you more: doubters or supporters? Positivity and supporters motivate me much more. I don’t pay any attention to doubters. In almost every case, if someone is telling you that you can’t do something, it says a lot more about them than it says about you. If you need a little boost of confidence, someone who you trust looking you in the eye and telling you that, “you got this” is worth more than any fuel that haters or doubters may provide. All of that said, I do think back with some satisfaction every once in awhile about the guidance counselor in high school who told me that he wasn’t sure I was college material. I’m not sure he was high school guidance counselor material. Focus on the positive. Win for you, not to spite someone else.
What does it mean to be black in Madison? Wow. This is a different question for different people, and it’s different question for me depending on the day, where I am, what I’m doing, how I’m dressed, and who I happen to come into contact with. I’m usually in a good mood when I walk into the grocery store. I love to cook, I love to eat, and I’m there so that I can do both of those things in the near future. What’s not to be happy about? Too often, I walk into an aisle, only to see a look of panic come across the face of a white woman who has left her purse in her cart (which she has, of course, left in the middle of the aisle). Sometimes they actually lunge for their cart as though I am going to steal her purse in the middle of the store. As wrong as you know they are, it is still dehumanizing for that to be the first thing that someone thinks when they see you. I wonder all of the time how it can possibly be to live here and be black if you aren’t a lawyer who knows important people and has resources to protect yourself if necessary. Unfortunately, when I read the question that is the first thing that popped into my mind.
What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most? I am going to intentionally violate the rules here and only talk about one person that has really impressed me recently. Sandy Morales, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, is running an important agency with a national reach that has a significant impact on the Madison area community. Her organization also has a major impact on communities of color, as many of the children who are benefitting from the volunteers and other services that they provide are kids of color. Sandy not only shows that she is more than capable of running the organization effectively from a technical standpoint, but also that she passionate about the mission and the people that she serves. Not only do we need more leaders like Sandy in this community, we need to do a better job of recognizing and supporting the ones that we have.
What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities? The University of Wisconsin MUST be the magnet that draws and keeps talented people of color to this community. It is important for the business community to play a major role as well, but until UW brings in many more people of color and creates an environment for those students to have positive experiences and want to stay here to start their careers and raise their families, it will continue to be a challenge to have a critical mass in Madison that will help address the many disparities that we see in Madison. There are individuals at UW, and offices like the office of Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Patrick Sims, who are working hard to get there, but they need support from university leadership and the entire UW community to be successful.
What are your top three priorities at this point in your life? My daughters are 13 and 15. My top priority is continuing to prepare them for college in the short term, and to be great and productive people in the long term. My second priority is continuing to grow my diversity consulting business, The Davis Group. We have recently entered into an exciting partnership with WIPFLi, a national accounting and consulting firm that does business all over the country. We will be providing cultural competence and implicit bias for their clients around the United States. We are also exited to be working with Madison College to develop a comprehensive Equity and Inclusion Plan for the college. It is exciting to be on campus and see the diversity and energy of the students and the commitment to diversity of Madison College President Dr. Jack Daniels. My third priority is simple. A peaceful and happy existence. Life is great and I want to enjoy it. My professional life can be hectic and stressful at times, so having good friends and as little drama as possible in my life is a priority to me.
You held the position of Deputy Chief of Staff & Chief Legal Counsel in Governor Doyle’s Administration. What are you two biggest takeaways from the job? Ironically, the biggest takeaway that I learned from that experience was about diversity and how to successfully achieve it. I learned it from a white man named Jim Doyle. We had to most diverse cabinet in the United States, and it happened because Gov. Doyle was committed to diversity and made it clear to everyone who worked for the administration that it was a priority of his and that not succeeding was not an option. There was a purposefulness and focus that was impressive. Every hiring pool had to be diverse, or there would be a new pool. Once the pool was diverse, you just picked the best person for the job. There was no reaching or lowering of standards, it was about aggressively identifying and recruiting talented people and putting them in positions where they could be successful.
The other thing that I learned in that role is the importance of having great people around you and treating them well. I had never really managed anyone before that job, and suddenly found myself managing a lot of people, many of whom were very young, in their first real job, and working in a very intense environment. I learned that it pays to say “please” and “thank you,” even when you are the boss, and to make the extra effort to make people feel that they are always part of what is happening. When you lead people by fear and intimidation, you get the minimum from them. When you treat them with respect and appreciate them, they will give you everything they have. I really enjoyed the people that I worked with and am proud of the things that Gov. Doyle achieved in his two terms as governor.
You now are the CEO of the Davis Group. What do you enjoy and not enjoy about being a small business owner? There is very little that I don’t enjoy about what I do. I am passionate about helping our clients achieve their diversity goals and create an environment where their employees are happier and more productive. If I had to pick one thing I don’t like, it would probably be the amount of time that I spend on paperwork and other administrative duties. I am not very good at it, so it takes me much longer than it should.
What I really enjoy is the fact that I have been able to surround myself with a really great team of consultants who work with us. I love that we really are a family business, too. My sister Ericka is our Director of Market Research and my mom is our Director of Training and Program Development. We have talked about all working together for a long time, and it is satisfying to see it coming to fruition. From a business perspective, it is also very fulfilling to see the progress that clients make when they are provided with perspective on diversity that they didn’t have before we started working with them and with tools to apply that new perspective to make their organizations more successful. It is not unusual for me to have clients call and tell me about new initiatives that they have come up with on their own based on tools that we have provided. That is when you really feel like you are having an impact.
You were the lead attorney in a discrimination claim against Edgewood High School and now you are the lead Attorney in a discrimination claim against West High School. Why is it important for you to take on these type of controversial cases? Well, I can tell you that you don’t take these cases because doing so earns you a lot of new friends. Taking on major institutions is not something for the faint of heart. Institutions definitely fight back. I take these cases in part because there are not too many people who are willing to do so. I was talking to my parents about the Edgewood case when it first started and in the middle of the discussion, my dad said, “this is why you went to law school.” All I could say was, “yes it is.” What I have learned in the last three years is that there are people of color being treated horribly in schools and businesses and other organizations. It is scary how many of these stories I hear. I can only imagine how many people are dealing with discrimination and harassment with no one to turn to for help.
In every civil rights case that I have handled, just being able to give my clients the feeling that someone is there to have their back has been very important to me. They know that we are David going up against Goliath, but they are finally getting their opportunity to confront those who have mistreated them. It is critical that the community and organizations that serve communities of color get engaged in these cases and help to apply the pressure that is necessary to force institutional change.
I will challenge the characterization of these cases as “controversial.” It should not be controversial for people to stand up and demand to be treated fairly by their school or employer. We all need to work together to make sure that it becomes the norm, and not something that is big news.
What fatherly tips would you give for fathers who have daughters like yourself? The first tip would be not to take any of the experience for granted. It is the greatest thing that I have ever had the opportunity to do. Watching your children grow from babies to the young women that my daughters are now is something that cannot be put into words. The second tip is that the most important thing that you can give your kids is time. They don’t care about anything more than they care about you being there. The third is something that the only black professor I had in college said. He had a daughter. He told me if I ever had one, my job was to make sure that she always knew that she was beautiful, smart and worthy. She should never have to seek approval from some man, because she knows that her daddy has her back and has her own self-confidence that she has developed over the years. I could go on and on with this, but I’ll stop there.
Who has the better football program in the WIAC: your alma mater UW-La Crosse, or mine, UW-Whitewater? Hold on, let me take off my 1992 National Championship ring before I answer this question. All of that extra weight on my hand makes it hard to type. Whitewater has had a really great run. I give them full credit for the program that they have built. Congrats, Purple. Nice Job.
To continue my answer, I will follow the lead of (Madison365 editor-in-chief) A. David Dahmer who was just telling me that I had to give the Packers credit for NFL Championships that they won back when they were riding covered wagons to the games. If that is the standard, I’m going with my Eagles, and I am going to focus on the years of 1989-1992. I love going back to Whitewater’s Perkins Stadium. Such great memories. Two wins, no losses, and we clinched the conference championship there in 1992, my senior year, on our way to an undefeated national championship. We beat them three out of four times, and I’m still holding a grudge against one of those Talton boys for the one that we lost. If I did not have that ring and that record to shut down the Mike Millers of the world when they start talking trash about the current status of the rivalry, I would have had to move far away from here a long time ago.
I think that answers the question.
LeBron James or Stephen Curry? Tough question. I’m still taking Lebron … for now.
What is your favorite card game and why? I have been playing Bid Whist since I was about 10 years old. I really enjoy poker, but Bid is my favorite game. For starters, people don’t really appreciate it when you talk a bunch of trash at the poker table. In Bid, it is a requirement.