Companies participating in MMAC’s Region of Choice initiative are on pace for diversity goals, far outpacing region’s overall rate of diverse hiring

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A group of 125-plus Milwaukee-area companies participating in the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s Region of Choice initiative are on track to meet five-year goals for recruiting, retaining and advancing Black and Brown employees – and are significantly outpacing the overall region’s rate of diverse hiring, the MMAC said Tuesday.

Launched in 2019, the Region of Choice initiative includes a pledge by participating companies to increase overall Black and Brown employment in their collective workforce by 15%, and representation among management-level employees by 25%, over five years, using 2018 as a baseline year.

The initiative also includes the sharing of best practices among leaders from participating companies, as well as efforts to increase the number of high-quality seats in Milwaukee K-12 schools and create more opportunities for diverse-owned businesses to become suppliers to businesses within the region.

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As of the most recent update delivered during the Business of Metro MKE webinar Tuesday, through 2021, the Region of Choice companies had 12.3% growth in Black and Brown employment as a percentage of overall employment. That far outpaced the 1.7% growth in diverse hiring for all metro employers reporting U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data through 2020.

All companies with more than 50 employees must report demographics of their workforce and in management positions.

For management positions, through 2021, the Region of Choice companies had 26% growth in Black and Brown management as a percentage of overall management – meaning that companies met the 25% five-year goal in this area ahead of schedule and far outpaced the 6% growth for all metro Milwaukee employers reporting EEOC data for the same period through 2020.

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“This year’s data confirms a trend toward greater representation,” said Cathy Jacobson, MMAC chair, and president and CEO of Froedtert Health. “Increasing overall employment and management positions for Black and Brown individuals is critical to closing economic prosperity gaps in the Milwaukee region, while strengthening the performance of our organizations.”

While Region of Choice companies are on track to meet their goals, survey results released in 2021 underscore the difference in the outlook of white managers compared to that of their Black and Hispanic/Latino peers. To that end, Corry Joe Biddle, vice president of community affairs at MMAC, emphasized that there is more work to be done.

“Companies and talent acknowledge that hiring is only the beginning of an employee’s lifecycle,” Biddle said. “Attention must be paid to retention, development and advancement in order for more Black and Brown individuals to rise to positions of leadership. Otherwise, we will always have the situation where a person of color is the ‘only’ in the room.”

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The initiative comes as companies report challenges filling job openings, said Tim Sheehy, president of MMAC. Regional employment in metro Milwaukee peaked at 871,000 pre-pandemic, and as the coronavirus spread, the region experienced a loss of 113,000 jobs.

“The latest report shows that we’ve recovered 80%, or 91,000, of those jobs,” Sheehy said. “The biggest barrier to fully recovering that employment is not the lack of openings, but the inability to fill them.”

The second annual Region of Choice Summit – a half-day event for participating companies and other interested employers – will be held in early June.

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