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Survey to assess Black employment in Dane County

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A Madison-area organization will survey businesses in the greater Madison area in early 2021 to collect data on racial disparities in employment, particularly in high-level positions.

The group, known as the Madison African American-Jewish Friendship Group, will send an anonymous survey — through SurveyMonkey — to businesses in an effort to determine the percent of African Americans employed at various levels in an organization. The survey is the first step in understanding “the current status of employment for African Americans in Madison and Dane County,” a statement from the group said.

That statement also pointed to cities in Dane County appearing in “Best of…” lists as motivation for the survey. Madison is known to regularly rank highly in “Best Place to Live” lists, and other cities in Dane County or the state of Wisconsin often appear in similar lists pertaining to quality of life, quality of schools, opportunities for entrepreneurs and more.

In contrast, Wisconsin routinely ranks as one of the worst states in the U.S. for racial inequality, racial segregation, and graduation disparity. Using those rankings as a catalyst, the group designed a nine-question survey to gather data.

“One of the issues that people have always brought to my attention is the employment race discrimination, especially in companies in Madison that have appeared to have a low percentage of Black people employed as managers, administrators and other high-level positions,” said Dr. Richard Harris, a member of the group.

Dr. Harris, 83, president of the Genesis Social Services Corporation, is one of the about 80 people in the group dedicated to bringing about social justice and equal opportunity for marginalized communities in Madison. The group was founded by lawyer Gerald Sternberg, now 73, and his wife in 1990 to strengthen the bond between African Americans and Jewish people in Madison. The group was active until 2001, and started up again in 2017.

Since the group’s restart, they’ve been involved in the Madison community through a variety of projects. They helped with the 100 Black Men of Madison’s annual back to school celebration, and sponsored a project to install portraits of Civil Rights pioneers Willie Low Harris and Reverend James Wright in Gov. Evers’ office. They are also promoting legislation to make African American history an integral part of American history in school districts throughout Wisconsin. 

This survey, their latest project, has already amassed a large number of supporters, such as the 100 Black men, The Boys and Girls Club of Madison, The Jewish Federation of Madison, JustDane and more.

“We’re hoping [the companies] will ask us (to) help them address the problem that they see as they review their company,” Dr. Harris said. “We feel it’s very worthwhile.” 

Currently, the group is unsure how long the survey will remain open once they send it out, Sternberg said. However, they plan to follow up with companies who don’t respond.

“The questions are very straightforward and I know that sometimes people don’t respond because they’re occupied with so many things,” he said. “That’s why the beauty of the survey is we say it takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete. So there are going to be follow-ups to make sure we get a good percentage response.”

As for the data, the group plans to eventually compile it into a report that will then be shared with the community, Dr. Harris said.

“We want to share it with especially the Black leaders and Black population in Madison, to let them know what we’re up against,” he said. “But mainly, we want to get back to the employers and say ‘look, this is what we’ve discovered. There’s a shortage of Black people in high-level positions. How can we work together to improve that?’”

The report will also include suggestions for how to improve the employment percentages.

“We will provide constructive solutions for businesses to utilize in order to improve the racial inequality that they have in their business,” Sternberg said.

Ultimately, the group aims to “shine a light” on the racial economic disparities.

“We’re a very unique group,” Sternberg said. “Not only is this survey unique in terms of there not having been many surveys of this kind in the past, but also, this is a group that really is unique in the city and the county. Frankly, there aren’t too many groups of our kind in the country. What we’re trying to achieve is a recognition of the importance of improved race relations.

“Our two groups have been the victim of discrimination for a century and so there’s a natural alliance between African Americans and Jews who understand the value of civil rights, who have worked together in the civil rights movement,” he added. “We are continuing that view and [making] sure that people of all races and ethnic groups are treated equally in the city of Madison and Dane County.”