'Walk the Talk'

Above: John Deere Dubuque Works General Manager Mark Dickson, left, and retired Operations Manager Ernest Jackson take part in the Community Foundation’s Business Leader Equity Cohort; below: Oather Taylor, former director of recruitment and diversity at Alliant Energy, works with the Community Foundation to facilitate the Business Leader Equity Cohort.

Last year, Dubuque business leaders gathered to hear Northeast Iowa Community College President Dr. Liang Chee Wee and retired John Deere Dubuque Works Operations Manager Ernest Jackson offer a perspective that many in the group had never experienced: Being a minority in the workplace.

They shared experiences with code-switching, the way some workers of underrepresented populations consciously or unconsciously alter their speaking or other personal habits. Often, they do this because they have a challenging time feeling accepted and/or finding their way within an organization. Even worse, they may be dealing with an overtly hostile environment. The stress can lead to underperformance and exiting the company.

“To stay ahead of the times, our business community needs to work together to help move our diversity and inclusion initiatives faster.”
Mark Dickson, general manager of John Deere Dubuque Works

The other leaders expressed how eye-opening the discussion was. Here were two peers opening up about challenges that they as minorities have faced. If someone who is now a high-level leader could feel such discomfort, how might employees at other levels of an organization feel?

Buy-in at the top

This type of learning takes place whenever the Business Leader Equity Cohort meets. Convened by the Community Foundation, the Cohort formed in 2018 with the understanding that for diversity and inclusion efforts to take hold in an organization, top leaders need to understand the issues facing minority workers and support efforts to address them.

“Creating a community of openness and inclusivity begins with creating employment opportunities that bring satisfaction and genuine interest to all.”
Marty Burbridge, retired president and CEO of Crescent Electric Supply Company

The members have deepened their knowledge through guest speaker panels, readings and discussions. They have dug into issues like the value of mentoring and community engagement for retaining minority employees and how organizations should respond to issues of the day, including anti-racism demonstrations.

Time to take action

Many gatherings include local guests, such as Pastor Stan Samson of Dubuque Paradise Church. He discussed the economic and health challenges his Marshallese community faces and how it could benefit from better engagement with employers and programs that prepare youth for local jobs.

Today, the Cohort is looking to translate learning into action — in other words, “walk the talk.” How do companies support efforts to train Dubuque’s diverse student population for in-demand jobs, promote career advancement for employees of color, or move unemployed and underemployed workers into a pipeline to career jobs?

To deepen its impact, the Cohort welcomes top leaders from businesses and organizations of all sizes and from all sectors to take part. New participants are invited to join the bi-monthly meetings and work with this group of peers to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture throughout the business community and the Dubuque region as a whole.

Contact Equity Coordinator Clara Lopez Ortiz for more information: clara@dbqfoundation.org | 563.588.2700

A longer version of this story in the Telegraph Herald's BizTimes Magazine.
This story appears in the Spring 2021 edition of Giving Matters.

Download the Business Leader Equity Cohort information sheet.

Read Community Foundation President and CEO Nancy Van Milligen's op-ed about the Business Leader Equity Cohort.

Press Contact

Jeff Danna
Communications Manager

About Us
The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque envisions a vibrant and inclusive Dubuque region where everyone can thrive. Since 2002, we have inspired people to give back to their community, and we turn this generosity into lasting change across our region, increasing access to resources and opportunities that help all people succeed. 

Connect with us to learn about the many ways we are building a strong, thriving Greater Dubuque for all.