Pursuing parity

Employers seek ways to embrace diversity, inclusion

Posted on Jun 30, 2020 :: Insight Insider
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

If employers did not have diversity and inclusion on their radar before the killing of George Floyd and the resulting nationwide protests, they do now.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies need to have action behind them, says Nykki Milhaupt, who works at CLA and serves as president of the Fox Valley Society of Human Resource Management. The local chapter teamed up with New North Inc. to work on “Better than Before: Inclusion & Diversity in the New North,” a publication highlighting diversity and inclusion topics and featuring area businesses with strong programs in place, such as Associated Bank, Schreiber Foods and Kimberly-Clark Corp. It debuted in early June, just as the national protests reached their peak.

“Our intent is really about embracing inclusion and diversity as not a buzzword, but a must-have in every organization,” Milhaupt says. “Inclusion and diversity are important, as everyone benefits, within our community and organizations. This publication can be that resource to get started, to try new initiatives or start dialogue. And in turn, this can help build relationships based on mutual respect, creating an inviting community to attract, recruit, hire and retain talent in the Fox Cities.”

Green Bay-based Associated Bank has had a robust diversity and inclusion program in place since 2011. The program is far reaching and includes everything from trainings on topics such as unconscious bias to colleague resource groups (CRG). More than 43 percent of bank employees are members of at least one CRG, says Angie DeWitt, executive vice president and chief human resources officer.

“You don’t need to identify as a person of that group to be a member. For example, there are several men in the women’s CRG. They say it provides them with a new perspective,” she says, adding the CRGs are not all related to culture. There’s a group for veterans and one for people who are disabled or have a family member who is disabled.

Associated Bank tries to make the workforce in its branches mirror the residents in the surrounding area, DeWitt says. For example, if a branch is located in an area with many Hmong residents, the goal is to employ several people of Hmong descent at the bank. “Customers like walking into the bank and seeing someone like them,” she says.

Kimberly-Clark Corp., which has a substantial employee base in Neenah, began focusing on diversity and inclusion in the early 1990s. Dan Buelow, director of communications for Kimberly-Clark North America and a member of its inclusion and diversity team, says that focus helps the company perform better in its global markets.

“When we foster an environment where our employees feel comfortable bringing their broad perspectives to work, we can make better decisions, create innovative products and enhance the experiences of our customers around the world,” he says. “It’s important that our workforce looks, thinks and behaves like the people who use our products.”

Like Associated Bank, Kimberly-Clark offers employee resource groups that not only enhance professional and personal development but also promote awareness and bridge cultural gaps. The company offers 60 groups worldwide, including 10 in Neenah, which helps create an inclusive and diverse culture, Buelow says.

When employees join K-C, they are encouraged to join a resource group, with the New Hire Opportunity Network hosting quarterly New Hire Connections to answer questions on local resources and build cohorts and internal relationships, Buelow says.

Creating a roadmap

The idea for SHRM’s diversity and inclusion publication began after local members attended a state leadership meeting. “While plenty of people are talking about diversity and inclusion, actually achieving it or making measurable progress was more of a challenge,” Milhaupt says.

The partnership with New North Inc. was a natural since the regional economic development corporation had its own diversity and inclusion efforts. “New North has always been a great advocate for Northeast Wisconsin when it comes to the call to action to focus more on attracting, engaging and retaining talent within our area,” says Milhaupt, adding the publication is available on New North’s website.

Diversity and inclusion are a vital part of the Greater Green Bay Economic Development Strategic Plan, which the Greater Green Bay Chamber launched in 2017 to create a community-owned and -driven economic plan. More than 300 contributed to the strategic plan resulting in 11 initiatives across eight task forces.

The Diversity and Inclusiveness Task Force recognizes the community wants to do better and can improve when it comes to attracting and promoting diversity and true inclusiveness, says Steve Baue, co-chair of the task force and CEO of ERC: Counselors and Consultants.

A key initiative for the group is the promotion and active recruitment of area CEOs to sign the CEO Pledge through CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, which outlines a specific set of actions leaders can take to cultivate a trusting environment where all ideas are welcomed and employees feel comfortable and empowered to have discussions about diversity and inclusion. Baue says more than 100 Green Bay area CEOs have signed the pledge or attended key events, such as touring the national “Check our Blind Spots” experience last year.

As the region looks to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool, Baue says it’s important to focus on cultivating a company culture and that it is truly welcoming to people of all backgrounds.

“You can’t just say you welcome diversity or that you value inclusiveness, you have to live it every day in actions,” he says. “That requires a hard look at our prejudices. It means having tough conversations. It means investing in creating a truly respectful workplace that has zero tolerance for any words or actions that serve to demean or marginalize a person. If you wouldn’t stay where you weren’t respected, why would you expect anyone else to?”

Filling a need

Last September, Sheng Lee Yang opened Us 2 Behavioral Health Care, an Appleton nonprofit focused on providing mental health services to people with barriers, whether race, sexual orientation or language. Since it opened, Us 2 Behavioral Health Care’s counselors have been busy.

While the clinic provides counseling services in Hmong and Spanish for people not fluent in English, 55 percent of the clinic’s patients are white, says Yang, who serves as the clinic’s executive director and a therapist. “We reflect the area where we live,” she says.

“We realized there were micro and macro needs out there,” says Kou Yang, who directs the clinic’s finances and operations and is Sheng’s husband. “The counseling addresses people’s micro needs, while training and other programs can help the community on a macro level.”

That’s where Us 2 Behavioral Health Care’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Training program comes in. EDIT’s offerings include training, screening a company’s cultural programs looking for unconscious bias, evaluating whether businesses have an antiracism policy and that their employee makeup mirrors that of the people served, says EDIT leader Dana Johnson.

“We can help businesses and organizations who are looking to take up a step-up in their diversity and inclusion plans,” he says.

Kou Yang says the issues raised by Floyd’s death and resulting protests are here to stay. “We want to remind people that diversity and inclusion issues are not going away and more businesses need to step up and take a stand against racism,” he says.

Ideally, organizations will get to a place where all employees think about diversity and inclusion as they go about their jobs. That’s the goal for City of Appleton employees. In 1997, the city created a full-time diversity and inclusion coordinator role. Karen Nelson, who holds that role, says the goal is for all employees to view their work through the lens of diversity.

“The importance of diversity and inclusion is integral in how the city departments are run. It’s manifested in our culture,” she says.
Nelson singled out Kurt Eggebrecht, the city’s health officer, who discussed racism as a public health crisis during a public health committee meeting in 2019. “That was something he saw and wanted to talk about,” she says.

The Appleton Police Department also has a strong diversity and inclusion culture, Nelson says. She points out the police department has used non-escalation methods for years, and “some of the changes being called for nationwide are already in practice in Appleton — using non-escalation methods and outlawing the use of chokeholds.”

Nelson likes how the city departments discuss diversity as they carry out their work. “Former Mayor Tim Hanna likened me to a conductor — I am out there directing the city’s diversity and inclusion efforts,” she says. “I provide a high-level view. I can’t be out in one of the seats since the orchestra would then be without a conductor.”

2020 Toward One Wisconsin Conference

People from across Wisconsin are set to gather Nov. 12-13 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Green Bay for the 2020 Toward One Wisconsin Conference, which focuses on building communities of equity and opportunity. The event was previously scheduled to be held in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference will tackle several topics, including addressing the barriers to inclusion, what’s working and what’s promising on the horizon. https://inclusivity-wi.org/