Survey shows disparity among white, Black and Hispanic leaders’ outlook on the city and their companies

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Results from a new survey reveal the disparity in how managers of color and their white counterparts in the region perceive their companies and the city of Milwaukee as a whole.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce polled more than 2,000 management employees of companies that are participating in the chamber’s Region of Choice initiative, which set targets for increased hiring and promotion of minorities in area companies.

Managers were posed two questions: Would you to recommend your company as a place to work? And: would you recommend metro Milwaukee as a place to live?

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Survey results released Tuesday underscore the difference in the outlook of white managers compared to that of their Black and Hispanic/Latino peers.

MMAC used the net promoter score to measure responses. When asked about their workplace, the total average score across managers in the region was 61. Broken down by demographics, the rating from African American managers was 21, compared to 46 from Hispanic/Latino managers and 69 from white managers.

The survey asked respondents to score on a scale of 1-10, with the subset of 9-10 being considered enthusiastic supporters, 1-6 considered detractors and 7-8 regarded as “passives.” The score is calculated by setting aside the passives and then subtracting the detractors from the promotors. (For example, if 60% are promotors, and 40% are detractors, the score is 20.)

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On that scale, a score between 0-30 is considered “acceptable,” 30-70 is “good” and 70-100 is “excellent,” meaning Hispanic/Latino and white managers’ ratings were within the good category, and Black managers’ ratings were within the acceptable category.

The chasm was also apparent when managers were asked whether they would recommend Milwaukee as a place to live. Among all respondents, the rating was 16, which is in the “acceptable” range. But for African American managers, the rating negative 37. That’s compared to Hispanic/Latino managers’ rating of 6 and white managers’ rating of 23.

“Managers gave high marks to metro Milwaukee’s restaurants, sports, entertainment, vibrant downtown and natural beauty. The biggest negatives were crime, racial segregation, income inequality and political divides,” MMAC vice president of community engagement Corry Joe Biddle said. “Both workplace and community affect Milwaukee’s ability to attract and retain talent.”

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Biddle said moving the needle on the second question — the one focused on respondents’ outlook on their community — will require a coordinated effort.

“There’s a lot of control that companies have over their own company cultures,” she said. “It’s a little trickier when you’re looking at the culture of a community. … you can’t just turn these levers and change the way it feels when you walk around in a suburb where you feel like you don’t belong.”

MMAC president Tim Sheehy noted this is the first time the net promoter score has been used to rate a region, which makes it difficult to draw comparisons to other cities.

The disparity is concerning, Sheehy said, adding he is hopeful that sharing the data publicly could influence change.

“An adage in business is ‘what gets measured gets done.’ So, this is not only ‘what gets measured gets done,’ but … what gets measured and publicly shared gets accomplished,” Sheehy said.

The survey results come two years after MMAC launched its Region of Choice initiative, which calls for a 15% increase in overall employment of African Americans and Hispanics and a 25% increase in the number of management employees from those groups by 2025.

Those goals are aimed at addressing a gap in prosperity in the region between white residents and residents of color, following a 2019 comparison study that found Milwaukee ranks last among 20 peer metro areas when it comes to its white-versus-Hispanic and white-versus-African American prosperity gaps. MMAC members in recent years have identified racial disparities as the region’s greatest liability.

The chamber on Tuesday announced participating employers are currently on track to reach those goals. Leaders shared the initiative’s progress at MMAC’s 160th All Member Meeting at the Bradley Symphony Center.

In total, 120 organizations that collectively employ 119,700 people in the region have signed on to the ROC pledge.

While total employment among that group has declined 1% from its 2018 baseline, African American American and Hispanic/Latino employment rose 6.2%. If that trend holds, the consortium is on track to reach the goal of 18.1% of its workforce being African American and Hispanic/Latino by 2023.

Hitting the 15% target by 2025 would add 1,819 African American and 973 Hispanic employees to the Region of Choice companies.

Meanwhile, total management employment across the consortium increased 6.1% since 2018, and African American and Hispanic/Latino management employment rose 23% in that same period. That trend puts the companies on pace to exceed the goal of 8.6% of its management workforce being African American and Hispanic/Latino by 2023.

Meeting the 25% target by 2025 would add 152 African American and 120 Hispanic managers across the metro area.

A list of companies that have signed the MMAC Region of Choice pledge is available here.

“This initiative highlights what we do best: collaborate to improve our standing as a place to work and live,” said Jonas Prising, former chairman of the MMAC board and chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup. “The Region of Choice initiative is not a moment, but a movement committed to producing a measurable impact. We can be pleased with our progress so far, but not satisfied. We know we have more work to do.”

Respondents of the manager survey were also asked whether they felt their employer was taking action on the Region of Choice pledge. Ninety-five percent of white respondents said “yes,” and 82% of Hispanic/Latino and 70% of African American managers said the same.

While ROC employers are on track to meet their hiring targets, the manager survey results underscore the importance of what’s happening inside of companies and whether they are fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging, said Julie Granger, executive vice president at MMAC.

“We know that if those things are not in place, retention is going to be very difficult,” she said.

MMAC leaders said its next steps will include “creating a playbook” for initiating and advancing corporate DEI strategies across all company sizes, forming a recruiters’ roundtable to help companies attract diverse talent from outside the region and hire talent from within the region and advocating for changes that reduce barriers to employment. It’s also focusing on connecting Black and brown talent to each other in the metro area by working with groups such as the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee, Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee and others.

Unlike more transient cities, such as Washington, D.C., or Chicago, where people are open to making new connections and building friendships, Milwaukee has a tendency to be more insular, Biddle said.

“It’s different here, you have to have a way to find out about the assets because it doesn’t happen as naturally here as it might in some places,” Biddle said. “There are a lot of Milwaukee natives here that always go to the same restaurants and have their same group of friends and, if you’re coming into this environment, there has to be a way to break into those friendship groups and connect to what reflects you and your culture in this new place that you’re calling home.”

Chamber leaders also say it needs to get involved earlier in the pipeline to better connect area residents with available jobs. Earlier this year, the MMAC board broadened its approach to tackling racial disparities by including educational attainment as part of the initiative’s focus.

“One of the big gaps that we have is, of the 114,000 kids in the city of Milwaukee, of the high school graduates only 10% of African American students and 13% of Hispanic and Latino students will graduate from a two- or four-year institution six years after they graduated from high school. So the point here is we’re leaving a lot of talent on the sidelines that aren’t prepared for the jobs,” Sheehy said, noting that one-third of jobs in the metro area require a college degree and nearly double that require some post-secondary education.

MMAC is working to rally support to increase the number of seats and high-quality schools over the next five years by 5,000, Sheehy said. The chamber’s role in that is two-fold: advocating state lawmakers for greater equity in funding across charter, public and choice schools and working with companies to raise funds to allow high-quality schools to expand their capacity.

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