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Milwaukee’s lack of diversity in management positions holding city back from equity

Posted at 7:01 PM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 11:19:22-05

MILWAUKEE — A lack of diversity in private sector management positions is preventing the City of Milwaukee from becoming more equitable.

"Our goal is really tied to economic prosperity for all," Corry Joe Biddle, Vice President of Community affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) said. "If we increase the number of managers making a certain salary, there is a direct impact to families."

The MMAC says, by balancing the diversity in those positions, everyone will succeed.

"85% of CEOs reported, there was more productivity and higher profit as a result of that diversity,” Corry Joe Biddle, Vice President of Community Affairs for the MMAC said. “There’s study after study that shows productivity, employee engagement, employee happiness, innovation, all increase as a result of inclusion.”

A recent University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee study shows Milwaukee has the fewest African Americans in private sector management positions in the country. The MMAC says, while African Americans make up 14 percent of the total workforce in the city, they hold only 4.7 percent of the management positions.

“Of course, it’s intimidating,” Fiesha Lynn Bell, an Associate Director of Major Gifts with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation said. “But it is the way of the world right now.”

Bell was promoted to a management position within the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. She is one of the very few African Americans to hold a position like that in the entire city. She says, it was difficult and she needed help.

“I found a couple of young professional organizations when I moved here,” Bell said. “FUEL Milwaukee, Milwaukee Urban League for Young Professionals, they are great assets. They have connected me most certainly with the business community but the community that looks like me.”

Her story is all too common for African Americans who need to find a group to vouch for them to get ahead.

But Biddle says, diversity should speak for itself.

“All of the blind spots people have because of their own cultural perspective gets wiped away with other perspectives,” Biddle said. “More diversity makes it more productive and successful. It affects the bottom line and it’s the right thing to do.”

To try and increase diversity, the MMAC created the Region of Choice program. It’s a commitment made by businesses in the city to increase African American and Latino representation in the work place. By 2025, the businesses are committing to increasing overall diversity by 15 percent and increasing diversity in management positions by 25 percent.

Biddle says, this is a benefit to everyone.

“It impacts Black, Brown and white folks the same way,” Biddle said. “There is a detriment to not having diversity at every level of an organization.”

“Any form of diversity, in gender, race, education is beneficial,” Dr. Kalin Kolev, Assistant Professor of Management at Marquette University said. “Those people bring different perspective to things. When you look at the same thing from different angles, that helps see things you didn’t think exist.”

As a professor at Marquette, Kolev says he doesn’t have many African American students. Biddle points to a lack of representation as a reason for this.

“Imagine going through your entire career and never seeing someone who looks like you as a manager, an executive, a CEO,” Biddle said. “There is an impact when you don’t see inclusion at those levels.”

However, Dr. Kolev encourages those in business to try and find a similarity you share with a superior. It could be a college, a sports team, anything to relate to them so they can get a better idea of who you are as an employee. At the core, Dr. Kolev says, that’s what matters most.

"Just be proud of what you are, what you can do and what you can contribute and show it to people,” Kolev said. “If someone doesn’t appreciate it, many other companies will.”

"To just say, I think I want to do more but I'm not sure how to go about it, there are tons of people to lean into that conversation and say, come on I'll show you how,” Biddle said.

This way, more people like Fiesha Lynn will get into management positions and be in a spot to help the next generation.

“It’s my obligation, not just as a young leader but as a young Black woman,” Bell said. “Now, being in a development role where there are very few Black and Brown and tan individuals to bring them around and create positions for them.”

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