Recently, a consortium of educators, university staff, and key stakeholders came together to talk about the importance and creation of a pipeline of African-American college graduates into key employment sectors in Wisconsin. The event, which was hosted by the Milwaukee Education Partnership, Milwaukee Public Schools, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Educators (MMABSE) was a needed opportunity to discuss the critical under-representation of African-Americans holding degrees and certifications in education, engineering, information technology, agriculture and health care related fields in the state.

State Sen. Lena Taylor

As I sat and listened to the many perspectives and needs plaguing the state’s workforce, I was reminded of the longstanding conversations about the importance of diversity, whether in Wisconsin schools, neighborhoods, or employment. Frequently holding the dubious title of being one of the most segregated cities in America, Milwaukee leaders have known for years that we have a problem. Visitors to our city, also, quickly pick up on our poorly held secret. There is a definite lack of representation of African- Americans in business and key industries in the state. Further compounding the issue is the consistent ranking of Wisconsin is one of the worst states for black employment.

The question that haunted me, even as I participated in a panel discussion, is when will we get it? When will legislators, business owners, corporations, and civic leaders appreciate that the state, city and quality of life are better when we are all thriving. In fact, our power, strength and sustainability come from our diversity as a workforce and community. Whether in attracting business, tourism, conventions, we are best positioned to do that when we can demonstrate that we have something to offer everyone. We have a better chance at recruiting and retaining top talent that is diverse when people can see themselves reflected in the landscape and fabric of a city. The good news is there is a way to do just that!

Area employers, Milwaukee Public Schools and the state have the ability to connect to more than 30 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to identify ways in which to partner or expand efforts to enhance the pipelines of students and graduates to and from Milwaukee. We need to talk about using HBCU’s as options for higher education for Milwaukee area youth that need or want a different college experience. We can encourage these institutions to develop or strengthen collaborations in targeted industries to increase African-American representation, educating Milwaukee graduates who could return to our city to help grow our local economy.

More importantly, I want African-American youth to see what is possible for themselves, in classrooms, boardrooms, and everything in between. They should see themselves in jobs in health care, engineering, nursing, agriculture, and information technology. Improved efforts of inclusion and representation in the state’s workforce is a win-win for everyone. In fact, diversity and innovation go hand in hand. We become more competitive in burgeoning industries when we embrace different ideas, experiences, and abilities.