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Multiple D&I Strategies Work in Sync to Create Real Change

She won’t hesitate to admit that a big part of what makes the diversity and inclusion initiatives successful for her company is the support they get from high-level leadership. But, it’s a multi-pronged approach, including both top-down as well as bottom-up strategies, that have defined Angela Russell’s implementation of a D&I program over the last two and a half years.

In the third installment of the D&I Virtual Roundtable Summer Series, “Tapping into the Power of Difference,” Russell, who is Director of Diversity & Inclusion at CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, Wisconsin, shared the best practices she uses and lessons she has learned from her experiences.

Setting the stage, Russell opened with a review of key concepts in D&I, such as the difference between equality and equity and what it means to have an inclusive workplace.

“I can give you an example that was eye opening to me,” said Russell.  “We have interns every year. Last year, we had an intern in a motorized wheelchair. We had a push button to open doors to get into the building. But, what we didn’t know was that we didn’t have one to get from the lobby to our offices.” It turned out that the setup was compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “Doing what is ADA compliant isn’t always the same as doing what is equitable. We didn’t know it had a differential impact on someone because we didn’t have that same experience.”

Russell pointed out that being inclusive is not about doing things for people who are less fortunate or disenfranchised. Rather, it is about acting collaboratively. To do this, it is important to get input from people before making decisions that may impact them. “When making policy decisions, ask the questions: Who’s benefiting from this decision? Who’s burdened? If you don’t know who’s burdened, go out and ask people who are not like you,” said Russell.

Diversity will not last if the corporate culture is not inclusive, according to Russell. CUNA Mutual Group utilizes a dozen Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, to support employees with a variety of backgrounds, life circumstances or interests.

“I would ask you to think about some of the unwritten rules that you ask people to assimilate to in order to succeed at your organization,” said Russell. “Do you ask people to give up part of their identity to ‘be like us?’” This is important to maintaining the value brought by a diverse workplace. “When we build diversity, we want real innovation, we want those new thoughts and ideas.”

Not only are ERGs a best practice in the D&I space, they can also be strategic partners for meeting business goals. Identifying that there was a growing opportunity among African American consumers, the CUNA Mutual Group team responsible for products in this market space reached out to the African American ERG for help thinking through their strategies.

Three years ago, when the current CEO took his position, one of the first things he did was roll inclusion into the corporate vision. The company has D&I council comprised of leadership at the Vice President level and above. The council helps lead cultural change from the top down. There is also a D&I Action & Change Team, a grass roots team that works to lead change from bottom up. “I call that the big squeeze of culture change for D&I,” said Russell.

In her role, Russell has also worked on helping the company attract and hire a diverse workforce. One of the first projects she did when starting at CUNA Mutual Group was analyze the recruitment process. The company had a five-page algorithm of the entire recruitment process. Her team went through the algorithm looking at each decision point, evaluating it for any potential effects from bias. Bias can be institutional, individual or systemic. At each node, the team asked, “What does bias look like, here? What are strategies to mitigate against those biases?” These strategies to mitigate bias were formulated and put into an 11-page document. Then, they were boiled down to a one-page document that was provided to hiring managers as a tool to help them attract and interview a broader, more diverse pool of recruits.

Another important part of attracting a more diverse talent pool comes from expanding personal interactions. To improve access, CUNA Mutual Group leaders are encouraged to participate with a variety of community organizations with which they partner.

“We know that, in general, getting a job is all about who you know. If you only know people who are just like you, those are the people who are going to have the awareness that a job is open at your organization,” said Russell. “We encourage our executives and leaders of our company to go out in our community to meet people and connect with people who are different from them.”

In closing, Russell shared some common themes and best practices that she has encountered in her experience:

  • Success in the D&I space requires a long-term commitment
  • Employee Resource Groups (also called Affinity Groups or Business Resource Networks) help build an inclusive workplace
  • Training is needed to build awareness and skills for management as well as staff
  • Before implementing policies, it’s important to ask, “Who benefits from this and who is burdened?”
  • Collect both quantitative and qualitative data to measure progress
  • Collaborate and align with other efforts
  • Recognize early wins to maintain energy over the long haul

The presentation slides and a recording of this event is available on the MTWC website. Additionally, a list of resources valuable for D&I professionals has been compiled and posted.

Personal Experiences and a Strong Business Case Have Resulted in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program to Grow Much Needed Workforce

Facing many of the same workforce challenges being seen in the transportation industry, one large healthcare organization has built a successful model for growing its talent pool. Based on the fundamentals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the program at UW Health, in southcentral Wisconsin, is growing the skilled workforce they need through an innovative use of community partnerships and home-grown internship and training programs.

Bridgett Willey, Director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways at UW Health recently joined Tremaine Maebry and 31 attendees for the second installment of the MTWC Diversity and Inclusion Virtual Roundtable Summer Series. In the roundtable, they discussed successful strategies for building a successful Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program and how Willey’s experiences in healthcare can be applied within the Transportation industry. A recording of this roundtable discussion is available on the MTWC website.

Across several sectors, filling positions in the Midwest is difficult and getting harder. That is exactly what UW Health is experiencing as a healthcare system comprised of five hospitals and just under 200 clinics with 16,000 employees. Filling positions in the state is difficult due to high rates of retirement among baby boomers combined with a very low unemployment rate of just 2.6%. UW Health discovered, however, that there is a rich untapped resource among the area’s communities of color, where unemployment rates are currently higher.

About four years ago, Willey started a program to give underrepresented high school and college students an opportunity to explore about 60 in-demand, healthcare careers. The program is called HOPE, which stands for Health Occupations and Professions Exploration. From the first class, interest and attendance in HOPE offerings far exceeded expectations. To date, about 1500 high school and college students from all over the state have participated.

Based on the success of that program, Willey made a proposal to senior leadership to form a new department. Leadership agreed and Allied Health Education and Career Pathways was formed a year and a half ago. With the formation of a department, the programs received a sustainable source of funding that replaced the less reliable grant funds used at their launch.

Since then, the department’s programs have expanded into working not only with youth but also with adults who are underemployed or unemployed. The programs provide short-term training and educational sessions, usually in partnership with a community organization such as The Urban League of Greater Madison, Centro Hispano of Dane County, or Operation Fresh Start, to provide people with the training they need to be successful as they come into various entry-level positions at the hospitals and clinics.

Making the business case for cultural competence at UW Health was key to gaining buy-in for the new department. It’s important for the organization to have a staff with a similar demographic makeup to the patient populations that it serves.

“Over the last couple of years, we have increased our diversity especially at our entry-level careers at the hospital. Now we’re focusing our efforts on creating more opportunities and paths for folks to get into the professional and technical levels of the organization,” said Willey.

Other key factors that have helped gain buy-in include the involvement of subject matter experts from throughout the organization in all aspects of the department’s work. From collecting information about careers and developing training materials to working directly with the students at HOPE events, people are asked to share their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the program. It’s also important to bring in someone well versed in education who can help not only develop the materials but also help make the careers look interesting to young people. They have a website at www.hopemadisonwi.org that is used extensively by the students during the HOPE events.

With just four career pathways coordinators plus herself, Willey points out that it’s extremely important to be able to work with limited resources and be willing to constantly innovate and change what the team is doing.

“As a small team, we’re always working at capacity. Before we can try something new we have to take something out. So, we’re always in a state of change and growth,” she said.

Willey also admits that her personal experiences probably helped make her especially adept at implementing workforce development programs. When she was about 11, Willey saw her father’s career change take her family from living at the poverty line to the middle class. This experience stuck with her and taught her important lessons about how young people choose their future careers. She later built on this experience when choosing her own professional trajectory, and eventually used all of these experiences to build the HOPE program.

Her early exposure to healthcare came from her dad when he came out of the Navy. After serving four years as an EMT, when he rejoined civilian life, her father’s skills were not transferrable into a certification or a specific job role. So, he was working at a low wage at the VA hospital in Kansas City, as a Patient Care Assistant. While there, a cardiologist offered him the opportunity to learn on the job to operate a new technology, diagnostic medical ultrasound, which was used to look at patients’ hearts and blood vessels. With this new training and new career path, Willey’s father vastly improved his family’s financial situation.

“That, to me was incredible,” said Willey. “Later, when I went to college I started out as a Journalism major. I quickly realized that I was going to have student loans and that there was only a thirty percent chance I would even get accepted into the Journalism school. I decided that I better find a better career.” Willey went on to pursue a career in healthcare, starting with on-the-job EKG Technician training.

“Careers tend to run in families,” Willey points out. “When I tell the story of my dad to the kids in HOPE, it tends to make a big impact. Many of them have experienced poverty or experienced a parent working two or three jobs just trying to make ends meet,” said Willey. “Whereas, a lot of careers in healthcare, with very little formal education, can be extremely lucrative and support families.”

A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal highlighted the student experience through the summer HOPE internship program.

For more information about the MTWC D&I Virtual Roundtable or if you have any questions please contact Maria Hart at maria.hart@wisc.edu.

National Center Helps Stakeholders Grow Construction Workforce with Resources for Strengthening Participation of Women in Apprenticeship

Working simultaneously with unions, contractors, women, and students, the  National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment is helping the construction industry grow the skilled workforce it needs by incorporating and retaining more women. One way the center is doing this is by bringing registered apprenticeship to bear as a proven strategy to grow and retain talent, according to Jayne Vellinga, Executive Director of Chicago Women in Trades, the parent organization of the center.

By providing evidence-based strategies and practical applications, the center supports employers in their efforts to build and implement apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs and then provides ongoing support to ensure that more women successfully complete their apprenticeships and launch long-term careers in their trade.

Midwest stakeholders including registered apprenticeship sponsors, training providers, and workforce development professionals can benefit first hand from the center’s expertise by participating in the upcoming Building Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment: An Institute for Practitioners and Employers, which will be held Friday, October 13, 2017 before the start of the Women Build Nations conference in Chicago.

The multi-pronged approach taken by the center is a reflection of several factors influencing the availability of skilled laborers today.

“If I’m a contractor, I want to find some women that I’m going to cultivate and treat like an integral part of my workforce so when I bid on a project that has a female hiring goal, I already have a great skilled person that I know produces for me,” said Vellinga.

Bringing women into these careers is good for the employers but it’s also an issue of equity, according to Vellinga. In construction jobs, which have been traditionally held by male workers, a new employee with a high school diploma and no work experience will enter the field at nearly $20 per hour. In five years, that person could earn nearly $50 per hour. By contrast, roles with similar educational requirements in traditionally female jobs, such as Nurse’s Assistant, will enter the workforce at around $12 per hour and only increase their earning potential by a few dollars in five years.

A couple of years ago, the center received a Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to set up a technical assistance center for the Midwest. The center was one of three grantees spanning the county. With this grant, the center has begun to expand their reach and bring technical assistance across the region.

The center works with their national partners, primarily unions, to develop technical assistance plans, provide training, help decipher regulations, and develop best practices and case studies. They provide employers assistance on issues as varied as recruitment and retention to domestic violence.

“It’s also about career choice,” explains Vellinga. “Not every woman is a nurturer. Not every woman without a college degree wants to work with children or old people or be a waitress. Women have wide range of interests whether they’ve had an opportunity to go to college or not. It’s important to have that level of career choice and the earning power that goes with jobs that have been traditionally male.”

In 2016, the center received an additional grant from the Department of Labor targeting equity partners. The center was named the lead agency for a consortium of 10 organizations around the country. This consortium includes virtually every funded tradeswoman organization in the country and works with the national Registered Apprenticeship program. The consortium assists apprenticeship program sponsors with their equal employment opportunity planning. They provide tools, guidance, technical assistance, training, and other services in support of building equity for women in apprenticeship. Today, women make up only 15% of all apprenticeships, and in the construction field, the numbers are much worse at just 3% nationwide.

An improving economy and projected workforce shortages are helping to spur momentum for women in trades. Vellinga also points out that certain incentive programs work exceptionally well to motivate positive hiring practices. The Illinois Tollway system, for example, offers earned credit to contractors who bid on construction projects for each woman or minority that is hired. What makes this program especially beneficial is that it also awards credit for retaining these employees. “So, if you’ve done a good job with your workforce, you don’t necessarily have to be the lowest bidder to be successful in getting a contract,” said Vellinga. “What I like about this system is that it rewards you for what you’ve done, not just what you say you’re going to do.”

In her 17 years at Chicago Women in Trades, Vellinga has seen significant improvement in the work environment for women in construction. As an example, she tells about one of the plumber’s unions she works with in the Chicago area. Just four years ago, this group had just two women in their apprenticeship program. However, with a change in mindset among the union’s leadership, they started bringing more women into the program. Today, they have 32 women in their apprenticeship program and are also supporting a robust mentorship program.

“Last year, for the first time in this local’s history, they sent women as delegates to the union association convention. And not just one woman, but three,” said Vellinga.  “These numbers are going to make the difference. You can’t ignore, refuse to train or create an untenable work environment for an important percentage of your workforce.”

For more information on the center or on the Women Build Nations conference, contact Jayne Vellinga by email at jvellinga@cwit2.org.

Presenters at First D&I Virtual Roundtable Took it from the Top in Tackling Common Challenges

An opportunity to discuss strategies for tackling common challenges brought forty diversity and inclusion professionals together for the Midwest Transportation Workforce Center’s first D&I Virtual Roundtable discussion on June 8. When they registered, attendees were asked to share their challenges and questions. Among their responses, some strong themes emerged. Common challenges shared by the attendees included:

  • Gaining buy-in and support from senior leadership
  • Demonstrating and communicating the value of diversity and inclusion
  • Evolving corporate culture to not only recruit people with a broad range of backgrounds and ethnicities but to also welcome these people and make them want to stay

The roundtable discussion was the first in a three-part series hosted by MTWC this summer. The MTWC is hosting this series to address a need among D&I professionals for a place to share ideas, learn from peers, and network with others with similar goals.

The roundtables are being facilitated by Tremaine Maebry, an attorney and advocate who currently manages the Office of Diversity and Civil Rights at a major transit organization. Maebry kicked off the discussion by explaining why he chose the topic of this first roundtable.

“In my conversations with colleagues and other advocates, our discussions often center around how do we get a seat at the table or how do we get buy in or support from our executive leadership team,” said Maebry. “I say that most of our senior leaders understand the importance that diversity plays in our organizations especially when it comes to the bottom line, retention, recruitment, and profit. What is unclear is the role that the D&I professional plays and how we fit in. It can be difficult for leadership to see us as strategic partners. It’s important for us to understand our roles and what we’ve done to create value. We need to do that before we ask for a seat at the table. We need to be able to articulate that especially to those in senior positions.”

Presenters, George Watts and Laurie Blazek of Top Line Talent, discussed strategies that D&I professionals can use to improve communication, especially with senior executives. Using some of the strategies outlined in their recent book, “Becoming a Strategic Leader,” Watts walked through ways that people can align their communication to the personality traits of the people with whom they are trying to communicate.

Watts asked the people in the roundtable to consider how they ranked various aspects of their personality. Then, they were asked to consider the top traits of their boss or other member of senior leadership at their organization. Given certain traits, Watts outlined the best communication styles that work to communicate with people with those traits.

To demonstrate, Watts asked for a volunteer. The volunteer shared that her top personality traits, as defined by Watts’ model, are a tendency toward extroversion and open-mindedness. On the other hand, a person she needs to communicate with at work has an almost opposite set of personality traits with a tendency toward conscientiousness and being emotionally stable.

“He is looking for you to present a metrically based argument and a process. You have a tendency to sell how diversity can make the workforce more creative and innovative and it can expand the talent pool. What he really wants to hear is how diversity can improve financial performance and result in decision making,” suggested Watts.

Overall, Watts talked about how D&I professionals can rebrand themselves to better communicate with senior leaders at their organizations and adjust their personal communication style so that their messages are more well received by their audience.

“To earn a seat at the table it’s important for you to understand your personality structure and then understand how your audience wants to receive that information and hear that information,” explained Watts.

In addition to communication style and personality traits, Watts proposed that D&I professionals think about their profession as a whole.

“What business are you really in?” asked Watts. “You have to define yourself as a talent management professional and diversity is one of the tools in your toolkit. You have to put diversity in the larger context and see it as part of the bigger picture.”

A recording of the roundtable discussion is available here.

Attendees at the roundtable included people from apprenticeship programs, community and technical colleges, consulting groups, industry, non-profits, primary and secondary schools, state departments of labor and transportation, transit agencies, transportation agencies, and universities.

While this discussion focused on communicating with top leadership, the next roundtable, on July 18, will focus on “Building Diversity and Inclusion from the Ground Up.” Bridgett Willey, Director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways at UW Health, will speak about her experiences developing programs in education, training, outreach, and workforce development that cultivate diversity and inclusion.

Before the next roundtable, D&I professionals are encouraged to continue the conversation via the MTWC Community of Practice by joining the group on Google+ where there is a special section devoted to Workforce Inclusion and Diversity.

For more information or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Maria Hart at maria.hart@wisc.edu.

MTWC Launches Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Initiative

This summer, the Midwest Transportation Workforce Center (MTWC) is hosting a series of conversations focused on diversity and inclusion practices.  Most businesses understand that diversity creates value in the workplace, builds stronger, more innovative teams, and will be critical to addressing future workforce shortfalls. However, implementation often falls to the wayside as the day-to-day objectives of running a business take priority.

You are invited to join others in the diversity and inclusion space to create a network that helps scale solutions across the United States. Hosted by the MTWC, this initiative will be facilitated by Tremaine Maebry, EEO/Diversity Initiatives Manager at Metra.

Through this initiative, MTWC hopes to provide an information exchange platform that makes space for diversity practitioners, advocates and champions from various industry backgrounds to have a dialogue on diversity and inclusion initiatives. Through a series of interactive, multi-layered discussions, the community will explore best practices, questions, resources, information, concerns, suggestions, recommendations and challenges of making a diverse and inclusive workplace with the intent of transforming that information into sustainable, workable, initiatives.

The initiative’s goals are:

  • To engage diversity and inclusion advocates from different industries, professional associations, generations, and geographic regions in meaningful dialogue and intentional actions.
  • To weave the principles of diversity and inclusion into sustainable, workable initiatives.
  • To identify impediments to creating a diverse and inclusive environment, and then propose solutions and ideas on how to address those challenges.

We welcome diversity and inclusion practitioners from all industry sectors.  Registration is now open for the first virtual roundtable discussion to be held June 8, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. Central Time.

For more information or if you have any questions, contact Maria Hart at maria.hart@wisc.edu.

Events

Webinar: Respectful Workplaces and Health & Safety Empowerment for Women in Trades

Transportation organizations and private contractors alike face significant
difficulty in recruiting and retaining personnel for highway construction
and other infrastructure projects. Lack of diversity within the trades has
exacerbated labor shortages. This webinar explores research conducted
on the experience of women and minorities in highway construction and
the trades. The research pinpoints issues that specifically affect women on
the job site. Webinar speakers will present research results and describe
how that research served to inform pilot programs in both Oregon and
Washington to foster respectful workplaces, and to improve health and
safety for women in the trades.

Target Audience

Apprenticeship and worker advocacy programs, construction industry,
local, state and transportation agencies, OJT/Civil Rights divisions, women
in trades community, education and research institutions