A new report finds that employers in the Madison area are routinely failing to hire or promote Black people to leadership positions. Because of this, Black workers in Madison have ended up in lower paying and less professionally rewarding jobs than their non-Black counterparts.
Using publicly available data and surveys, researchers from the African-American Jewish Friendship Group of Madison studied 178 businesses, municipal governments, schools, and other organizations in the Greater Madison Area to find out how many African Americans they employed, and what jobs those employees were working.
Here’s Dr. Bruce Thomadsen, an emeritus professor of medical physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the authors of the report. He says that, although many of the surveyed organizations employ Black workers, very few have African Americans in leadership roles:
“There are some bright spots such as Dane County and a few of the school boards, but overall if you look at the picture in the Madison area you’re just not finding African Americans in numbers that are compatible with the percentage of African Americans in the Madison population in the executive and administrative roles,” said Thomadsen.
In fact, many of the organizations the group surveyed employed no Black managers or executives at all:
“I was surprised that in so many of the employment categories the median was zero. That implies more than half of the businesses or whatever organizations you’re looking at had no African Americans in most of the categories,” said Thomadsen.
The situation in the Greater Madison Area’s public schools is very similar. Out of the ten school districts they looked at, all employ Black teachers at a disproportionately low rate in comparison to the 6.5% of the Madison population who are Black. Meanwhile, five school districts within Dane County have no Black teachers at all as of last year.
Those findings track with other disparities for Black people in Dane County, from health outcomes to finding housing to other basic services. And these findings are just the latest to illustrate structural racism in the Madison community. The Race to Equity Report, released almost a decade ago in 2013, found that alarming racial discrimination continued to plague Dane County across education, healthcare, housing, and many other areas.
While Madison consistently is cited as one of the best cities to live in overall, nearly three quarters of Black children in Dane county live in poverty. Black families in Dane county are also much less likely to have access to reliable services like water and heating than white families.
The group also looked at whether having a plan to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion made a difference in hiring practices:
“The first thing we saw that stood out is that in public schools the existence of a plan had absolutely no correlation with having a higher or lower fraction of African Americans in different positions–the administrators, the teachers, the professionals, the nonprofessionals, total employees,” said Thomadsen.
This was also true in businesses with diversity statements, but not municipal governments.
The report doesn’t talk about the cause of this inequality, but Dr. Thomadsen surmised that past and present discrimination play a role:
“Just looking at the results of the survey, the fact that we see this one group of people who seem to be excluded entirely from the opportunities appears to be due to the cause that people are basing hiring and promotions on race. You can’t say it’s causal, but you can say there’s a relationship there.”
The study came with support from minority-based and social service organizations, including the Urban League of Greater Madison and United Way of Dane County, as well as the Madison mayoral office. And the team of researchers has more work ahead, turning their focus next toward research on the role of race in mortgage applications:
“A lot of what’s going is being done quietly, because our goal isn’t to punish. Our goal is to try to open dialogue and work with all the aspects of the community to bring about positive change,” said Thomadsen.
Image Credit: Chali Pittman/WORT News.