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Diversity and Economic Development Summit Focuses on Attracting, Retaining Diverse Workforce

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Photo by L, Malik Anderson

Businesses, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs and professionals throughout Dane County attended the annual Madison Region Economic Development and Diversity Summit at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Friday, May 17.

The Urban League and MadREP anticipated an audience of about 600 business executives, community leaders, economic development professionals, educators, elected officials, entrepreneurs, and emerging leaders. Throughout the day, these attendees listened to local and national speakers, participated in a broad selection of break-out sessions, and discussed equity amongst each other.

“We really tried to shine the light on the experience of those who are not in the majority,” Step Up Equity Matters Cofounder and Facilitator Tania Ibarra said.

This marked her fifth year of involvement with the Madison Region Economic Development and Diversity Summit. Ibarra said she has witnessed the development of the programming since the beginning. She said attendees received the opportunity to listen to others about the experiences of Black women, Latinas and other historically marginalized groups.

This year Ibarra facilitated a workshop titled “Disrupting Biases: An Individual Commitment alongside Madison College Recruitment and Community Outreach Coordinator Nicole Sandoval. She also engaged in dialog during a closing plenary session with guest speaker and keynote Wade Davis, former NFL player and consultant on Gender, Race, and Orientation Equality.

“I think we started getting the audience going deeper. I think the Madison community has made some progress and are in a different stage of our evolution in this work so we can have the conversation of intersectionality and allyship whereas we wouldn’t do that three or four years ago,” Ibarra said.

The Director of Multicultural Strategy for McPherson Strategies and former Google executive Paulta David gave the opening keynote presentation, focusing on demographic shifts in the United States. She also explained why marketing to multicultural consumers proved to be a lucrative business decision.

Davis, however, focused more on the social responsibility of members of the community to engage in equity and diversity work. He said we have emptied the true meaning of intersectionality, a term coined by University of Wisconsin Law School Alumna Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to reflect the experiences of Black women who experience both anti-Black racism and sexism. Davis’ speech discussed businesses and organizations authentically embracing inclusion work.

“We have a lot of work to do in regards to diversity and inclusion in the surrounding areas, especially the state as a whole,” Participant Ursula Norwood said.

She attended the summit with some of her coworkers from the Alliant Energy, one of the many organizations sponsoring the event. Norwood said organizations should not wait to recruit diverse candidates in post-secondary education but begin in grade school. She also said businesses should discuss how to retain diverse talent within their organizations.

“I think we need to focus on grammar school. I really think early education is the key to get the kids really thinking and involved in certain jobs,” she said.

The summit included workshops on both preparing diverse student populations to build a diverse workforce and a panel on retaining talent of color. Participants were also given the opportunity to ask questions and speak with the facilitators or speakers after.

Gov. Tony Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway emphasized the importance of a diverse workforce and equitable organization in their address to summit attendees. At the summit, Evers took the opportunity to discuss his budget while reiterating the importance of transportation, healthcare and equitable housing.

Gov. Tony Evers addresses the Economic Development and Diversity Summit. Photo by L. Malik Anderson

“We often frame the value of including numerous facets of diversity into leadership positions, into board service, into our communities at large as a moral imperative, which it is, but the reality is that it is to our collective benefit to do so,” Rhodes-Conway said.

She also said diversity of opinion, experience and perspective is inherently valuable. Rhodes-Conway said the city’s demographic landscape is changing, the economy is growing and new opportunities are forming.

“We have to focus on diversity and inclusion to insure we effectively develop and retain talent before it leaves our state as well as recruit new talent from across the country,” she said.