The Greater La Crosse Area Diversity Council held its fifth annual workforce diversity conference Thursday.
La Crosse is gradually becoming a more diverse community. According to the latest Census report, about 9 percent of the La Crosse County population are people of color.
The conference is looking at ways to improve diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, and organizers stress that it will take everyone to help solve the problem.
Companies say it's a problem that often goes unnoticed.
"People are afraid to bring it up,” Nickijo Hager, vice president of mission for Mayo Health System, said.
But organizers hope Thursday's conference on workplace diversity will shed some light on how to get more people of color in the La Crosse area work force.
"You can look at organizations, you can see who's leading when I've talked about the specific identities, and you can see there's a lack of diversity,” Thomas Harris of the UW-La Crosse office of multicultural student services said.
Speakers from various companies and organizations spent the day talking about what needs to be done to make the workforce more inclusive for everyone.
"One of the areas we can improve on is communication,” Hager said. “How well do we develop our listening skills, how well do we develop ourselves in hearing things that we may not agree with or things that are very different from what we grew up with."
Places like the Mayo Clinic Health System say the key to workforce diversity may be right here in La Crosse.
"One of the things we've been noticing is that the children that are in our schools, have a lot more diversity than we have in our own workforces,” Hager said. “So we really need to focus on keeping the kids that are in our communities, who are bringing the richness of diversity -- keeping them here in La Crosse and making sure they feel welcome and excited and engaged -- both about working at school here, higher education, and joining our workforce in the future."
Those who attended the conference it takes everyone to make La Crosse a more appealing place to work.
"You can't coerce it,” Aaron Rasch, a state coordinator for Independent Living Resources, said. “You can't make it an administrative function, or a policy. You have to see what's culturally interesting."
The process starts with a conversation.
"We need safe environments where people can speak openly and honestly about their concerns,” Hager said.
Speakers from Gundersen Health System, Mayo Health System, La Crosse County and UW-La Crosse were all on hand at Thursday’s conference.