New report shows Black-white disparities in Madison-area private-sector employment | Local Government

Mirroring long-standing Black-white racial disparities in income, education, incarceration and a range of other quality-of-life metrics in Madison, the percentage of Black people employed at Madison-area businesses is below their share of the population, according to the results of a recent survey.

At the same time, for those concerned with increasing racial equity there were some bright spots in the survey of 187 employers from the private, public and nonprofit sectors, including disproportionately high levels of Black employment in nonprofits and some local governments.

During the Axios live “The Pandemic Pivot: Small Business Recovery” event, Axios cities correspondent Kim Hart interviewed Madison Black Chamber of Commerce president Camille Carter. Carter responded to the recent McKinsey projection report showing that up to 34 percent of Wisconsin employer small businesses could close permanently through the first four months, including through July, due to the pandemic. “I think that we are really in alignment with those statistics and percentages,” Carter said and added that small business owners within her network are working to rebuild but a number have closed their doors. Carter also addressed the impact of the George Floyd protests on their business community. “This is a time for awakening on every level, so what we’re finding as a chamber is that we’re needing to depend on one another and become engaged.”

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The largest chunk of employers who responded to the survey — 85 — were businesses. There, the The African American-Jewish Friendship Group of Madison, which created and administered the survey, found that while the city’s Black population is about 6.6%, according to the Census Bureau, about 5.2% of private-sector employees were Black and only about 0.3% of them were in management positions.

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The report’s authors were not surprised, given other disparities.

“Those of us who have been here a long time know that this is a perennial problem in this county, in this community, in this state,” said William Greer, the retired president and CEO of Journey Mental Health Center and now a consultant. “So we knew it was never going to be positive, but I think we were surprised by how bad it is, particularly in the for-profit sector.”

And while Madison has long been known as a progressive bastion with no shortage of public and private programs aimed at eliminating racial and economic disparities, Greer and the chair of the report’s writing committee, Richard Harris, were unequivocal in naming racism and institutional racism as the main obstacles to keeping Black people from achieving greater success.

“The racism that exists in the minds of people who do the hiring,” Harris said. “It’s difficult to hire someone if you have a racist, biased feeling toward that person and his group.”

While Black employment in Dane County municipal government was significantly below the county’s Black population as a whole, or about 6%, Dane County and the city of Madison have workforces that met or exceeded the percentage of Black residents generally, the survey found. The county, for example, reported about 171 of its 2,440 employees are Black, including 14% of nonprofessional staff and 6% of professional staff. Madison also has a Black police chief, the third in its history, and the Dane County sheriff is Black.

The story was mostly different in public education.

At the K-12 level, employment for Black people in the county’s school districts was about half that of their percentage of the population, not including nonprofessional roles. And survey authors called the number of Black teachers “glaringly insufficient,” even in the Madison School District, where only about 3% of teachers are Black in a district whose student body is about 18.4% Black.

The report also found that at the state’s flagship public university, UW-Madison, only about 2% of professors and 3% of associate professors are Black, in a state with a Black population of about 6.8%.

In the nonprofit sector, however, 16% of employees were Black at 54 organizations reporting data to the United Way of Dane County, and 21% of those organizations’ board members were Black.

DEI plans

Racial disparities like the ones seen in Madison and Dane County are common across the United States, as are racial, ethnic and gender disparities in the working world — from the disproportionate percentage of men in the trades or women in K-12 teaching, to relatively high percentages of Asian Americans in the tech sector and of Black people in certain professional sports and areas of entertainment. 

Study co-author Bruce Thomadsen said such disparities are not in themselves bad, but “when you look all of the categories and see that almost all of them in all situations are well below the population, that says something different. That says that there’s something in the community that’s keeping one population out of the leadership of the organizations everywhere.”

Results were mixed on whether organizations having a diversity, equity and inclusion plan meant a higher percentage of Black employees. There was no correlation in the for-profit sector, for example, but some among municipalities.

Greer pointed to a handful of actions and attitudes by organizations that have seen success in increasing minority employment, such as having executive teams that are committed to DEI initiatives and model that commitment to the rest of their staff, and having required, ongoing and free diversity and cultural-competency education.

“If you work at one of these organizations, you will learn how to interact with a diverse population,” he said.

He also said such organizations link competency in DEI to compensation and promotions.

“You rise in these organizations based on whether or not you get it, and whether or not you can demonstrate it,” he said.

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