Diversity at work

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Employee referrals help diversify
Diamond Cut


Diamond Cut Inc., a Mequon-based cabinet shop, didn’t set out to have a diverse workforce. It just sort of happened that way.

The company, founded in 2002, has 23 employees in its manufacturing facility. It has several older workers, with an established background in cabinetry, but most of its workers are younger than 25 years old. Some of those younger, minority workers were hired through temporary staffing agencies in the company’s early phases.

Today, when the company needs to expand, instead of turning to temp agencies again, Eric Coryell, the company’s president, asks his employees for referrals.

“Now as I go to hire, that’s who I go to talk to,” Coryell said.

The result is an integrated workforce of white, Asian, Hispanic and African-American employers, and most have been trained on the job. Workers who have been referred from current Diamond Cut employees have worked out well, Coryell said, because current employees are careful about their recommendations.

“A lot of the referrals are cousins or friends,” Coryell said. “Everyone refers people that are pretty good.”

Diamond Cut tries to hire a balance of older, experienced workers and younger workers. Because its older workers are able to train the younger workers, the younger workers don’t need to have established skill sets when they start, Coryell said.

“We end up alternating between experience and inexperience,” Coryell said. “We treat a rookie almost more preciously. If we can get someone who wants to work and learn, it’s like gold.”

Insurance industry reaches out to diverse college graduates


The Wisconsin insurance industry is trying to prepare for the looming labor shortage by reaching out to college students of all backgrounds and ethnicities at independent universities across the state.

The industry has partnered with the Wisconsin Foundation of Independent Colleges (WFIC) to form the Wisconsin Insurance Education Consortium, which seeks recent college graduates who are interested in entering the insurance industry, said Christy Miller, vice president of operations at WFIC.

“Our overall target is any student interested in the industry,” Miller said. “We’re targeting everyone, from every background. The industry is looking for a variety of people.”

The consortium began reaching out to students this summer when it held its Insurance Education Summer Institute at Concordia University. There, 25 students from colleges across the state attended classes taught by insurance professionals.

The students who attended the institute were diverse, Miller said, not only in ethnicity, but also in their majors and their colleges.

The consortium will hold its second institute in June 2007, she said. Next year’s institute will be open to 50 students.

This year, the consortium offered $25,000 in grants to five different independent colleges, Marian College, Beloit College, Carroll College, Ripon College and Silver Lake College, to create student outreach programs designed to teach students about the insurance industry, Miller said. Those grants will be awarded again next year.

Charter members of the consortium include West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., American Family Insurance Co., Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance, Badger Mutual Insurance Co., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, Church Mutual Insurance Co., Integrity Mutual Insurance Co., Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., Johnson Insurance, Marsh Insurance Agency, MGIC Investment Corp., Morgenson Matzelle & Meldrum (M3), R&R Insurance Services Inc., Security Insurance Services Inc., Society Insurance Services Inc., United Heartland and Wausau Insurance Cos.

“We’re hoping to grow it (the consortium) slowly year to year,” Miller said. “So far, so good. Companies are calling us, asking how to get involved.”

The WFIC also is helping the cause of diversity in Wisconsin with its College Readiness 21 program. More than 200 Milwaukee-area high school students have enrolled in the program, which encourages, supports and prepares minority, low-income and/or first-generation college prospects in their transition from high school to post-secondary education. Businesses can help the program reach more students by donating to the cause. Additional information is available at http://www.wficweb.org/readiness.html.

Marquette program delivers diversity in commercial real estate industry

By Andrew Weiland, of SBT

A few years ago, executives at Irgens Development Partners LLC examined the company’s staff.

“We looked around at our company and said, ‘We have a lot of middle-aged white guys around here,'” said Irgens principal Kristine O’Meara. “It would be nice to change that up a little bit.”

Irgens, a Wauwatosa-based real estate development company, is one of the corporate supporters of the ACRE (Associates in Commercial Real Estate) program at Marquette University. The program was started in 2004 by Mark Eppli, professor of real estate at Marquette and the Robert B. Bell Sr. chair in real estate. The goal of the ACRE program is to recruit, train and place minorities in professional careers in commercial real estate.

The participants in the ACRE program are not regular Marquette students. Instead, they are professionals who are often working in other trades who want to switch to a profession in commercial real estate.

Each year,  the top six students in the program receive one-year internships from corporate supporters. In addition to Irgens, other companies that have provided internships for ACRE students include: Pabst Farms Equity Ventures LLC; Wispark LLC; American Appraisal Associates; Mandel Group Inc.; KBS Construction Inc.; Continental Properties Co. Inc.; The Jansen Group Inc.; Gorman & Company Inc.; and The Polacheck Company (now CB Richard Ellis).

In 2005, Irgens provided Leng Lee, who is of Asian descent, with an internship and after only a few months offered him a permanent job as a property accountant. In addition to his training in the ACRE program, Lee, 31, has an undergraduate degree in finance from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“We had an opening in property accounting,” O’Meara said. “We saw his credentials and wanted to see if he was interested in a full-time job.”

“I like (the job),” said Lee, a Milwaukee native. “I get to interact with some of the talented property managers, the accounting manager, the CFO. And I’ve been getting more responsibilities.”

In July, Irgens provided Brent Oglesby, a 28-year-old Racine native, with an internship, and he eventually may become a permanent employee with the company. Oglesby, an African-American, has an undergraduate degree in business administration, and an master’s degree in business administration from Florida A&M University.

“Finance is probably my true passion,” Oglesby said.

Prior to joining Irgens, Oglesby owned the BBQ Time restaurant in Racine.

While interviewing ACRE students for interships, “(Irgens principal Jaclynn Walsh) and I said we better hire (Oglesby) because he’s smarter than we are,” O’Meara said.

Lee and Oglesby are working on accounting and financial aspects of commercial real estate. That might not be the most exciting part of real estate development, but it helps establish a base of understanding the industry, O’Meara said.

“You begin at the ground level,” she said. “You don’t just walk in the door and have us say, ‘Go put up a tower downtown.’ The financing part is not really seen as very glamorous, but you start to understand what makes a building click. Eventually, they will take that experience and move into other things in the company.”

Lee and Oglesby said their experience with Irgens is helping them establish networking connections with other professionals in the commercial real estate industry. That has been a major obstacle for many minorities who lack the connections needed to gain access to opportunities for professional advancement in the industry.

Lee and Oglesby said they appreciated the opportunities provide by the ACRE program and the internships with Irgens.

“I am a very big proponent for the (ACRE) program,” Oglesby said. “I’m just a proponent for continuing education.”

Law firm provides opportunities for minorities

By Bradley Wooten, of SBT

In an effort to diversify local law schools and law firms, Milwaukee-based Godfrey & Kahn S.C. is providing scholarships and internships for minority law students.

The firm partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s law school this year, duplicating a minority fellowship it established with Marquette University’s law school last year. The full-tuition scholarships are awarded to a first-year student at each school.

“From a firm-wide perspective, we always want to do what’s best for the client,” said Rick Bliss, a managing partner with Godfrey & Kahn. “This means increased awareness and diversity in the firm.”

One of the goals and benefits of the program is that it helps keep young, minority lawyers in the state, Bliss said. The fellowship attracts its recipients with a summer associate position at either the Madison or Milwaukee Godfrey & Kahn office.

“That position gives them a broad base of experience. It deals with all aspects of (business law), so you can decide what kind of law you want to go into,” Bliss said. “You already know what it’s all about.”

Joshuah Torres, a first-year student at the MU Law School, is this year’s MU fellowship recipient, and Alfonso Cornish II is the UW Law School’s fellowship recipient.

The first recipient, MU law student C. Wade Harrison, said the scholarship has convinced him to stay in Wisconsin and that another aspect of the fellowship, mentoring, was a big factor in that decision.

“When I first started (law school), I thought I’d end up in Chicago or out East,” he said. “But the fellowship helped me. One of things the fellowship comes with is a (Godfrey & Kahn) mentor.”

“A lot of minorities head off to the East and West coasts because the firms there have higher starting salaries and (law school) graduates come out with so much debt, it’s no wonder,” said Danielle Machata, an attorney with Godfrey & Kahn.

Harrison said his mentor, Jim Peterson in Madison, provided advice early in his education and helped him find his career path.

“People who are in their second and third year don’t get to do the work and legal drafting I do,” Harrison said.

Diversity is necessity for manufacturers

By Eric Decker, of SBT

The Paranet Group, a networking and educational forum for the executives of manufacturing companies, will hold its first diversity in the workplace seminar on Dec. 1.

At the event, executives from manufacturing companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin will discuss how they are working to increase the diversity of their workforce. They will be able to talk about how to best develop relationships and understand the cultural backgrounds of minority candidates, said Linda Kiedrowski, president of the Paranet Group.

 “They will share what they’re doing in their companies, who they’re working with and invite expert resources to share,” Kiedrowski said. “They really want to know they’re on the right track.”

The latest survey by The Paranet Group says the biggest challenge its members face is finding and retaining good employees. That problem is going to worsen before it gets better. The U.S. Bureau of Labor is anticipating a worker shortage of up to 10 million people by 2010 as baby boomers retire and the next generation is not large enough or experienced enough to replace them.

At the same time a large number of African Americans in Milwaukee are unemployed. That untapped labor pool may be the solution to the labor shortage.

Paranet’s diversity in the workplace event will address language, recruitment, training and immigration status of potential workers.

Many of the Paranet Group’s members realize they have no choice but to embrace a more diverse workforce, because of the demographics of the region and the graying of the existing workforce.

“It’s our world today,” Kiedrowski said.

The Paranet Group has invited speakers from Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who specialize in diversity in the workforce. Officials from the Hmong and African-American community have been invited, in addition to representatives of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce-Wisconsin.

Kiedrowski said the Paranet Group may form a new working group of manufacturers interested in having a continuing dialogue on diversity.

The meeting is aimed at current members of The Paranet Group, Kiedrowski said, but other manufacturers who are interested in the topic may attend. The event will take place Dec. 1, from 8 to 11 a.m at Danfoss Inc., 8800 W. Bradley Road, Milwaukee. For information, call the Paranet Group at (262) 796-2560 or visit www.paranetgroup.com.

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