Monday’s Economic Development and Diversity Summit was an exciting success in the eyes of organizers Urban League of Greater Madison and Madison Region Economic Partnership, as well as presenting sponsor Alliant Energy.
“I thought it was energizing and thought-provoking,” said Alliant Energy Foundation Executive Director Julie Bauer.
With over 500 in attendance, the summit exceeded expectations.
“The breakout sessions were almost standing room only,” said ULGM CEO Ruben Anthony. “People were pretty excited for what we have going on here today.”
“This summit is very important,” said Wes Sparkman, Director of Dane County’s new Tamara Grigsby Office of Equity and Inclusion, and a member of the summit’s planning committee. “Dane County realizes the connection between economic issues and a lot of the other disparities that we see.”
The higher than expected attendance bodes well for the community, Sparkman said.
“It says something about the businesses and the private sector wanting to learn more,” he said. “That’s what we need. More education, and hopefully that’s going to be followed by the appropriate actions and appropriate types of recruitments, targeted recruitment that we need.”
University of Southern California Professor Dr. Manuel Pastor opened the day with a keynote highlighting data about the shifting demographics of the American workforce.
“America is browning. Madison is browning,” Anthony said. “People of color are growing really fast. Latinos are outpacing most folks in what we see. We ought to get used to it, that people of color are coming into the workforce. Most of the younger people that are coming into the workforce are people of color. Most of the people coming out of the workforce are older Caucasians. With that said, we have to work together, and it’s to our benefit to use equity and diversity.”
Bauer recalled learning from Pastor that “equity has to be baked in, not tacked on.”
At the end of the summit, Bauer said, Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Jay Williams
“did a great job of pulling it all together. He said talent is distributed evenly through every zip code. Opportunity is not. That really stuck with me.”
Bauer said she also took a lot away from a session on implicit bias.
“The talent is there but sometimes the policies and rules we have in the workplace can limit those opportunities,” she said. “Everyday, simple things … we all go through the motions, but in doing that, there may be biases that are part of a problem that you don’t even recognize. A session like that can make you step back. It can cause all of us to take a pause and rethink. I think we all as companies, and as people, need to keep that in mind.”
“There’s a lot of good information here, new ways of thinking about things,” said YWCA Madision CEO Rachel Krinsky. “For those of us who work in this space, it’s confirming and gives us more facts and more ways of thinking and more ways of talking about the work that we’re trying to do. For other people who are here, it’s helping them figure out the how-tos. One of the challenges is that I think we need do both things in a day like this. We need to explain why it’s important, but what do we do about it.”
Bauer said Alliant Energy is pleased at the progress the summit has made in its first three years.
“I still believe bringing the MadREP and the Urban League together was the best decision,” she said. “It’s about job creation and thriving as an economic body. To do that we have to work together and be diverse. Each year we just build and we hear more and more impact and more progress, but understanding there’s more that we need to do.”