Inclusion council aims to increase access to workforce, support systems

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Interested in being part of the Employer Inclusion Council or Business Leader Equity Cohort? Contact Clara Lopez Ortiz at or call 563-588-2700.

For the past four years, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque has partnered with graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s USA Labs program on research projects to assess opportunities in Dubuque to attract and retain workers that reflect the region’s diversifying population.

Each year, the students come to a similar conclusion: Dubuque offers a vast array of support programs. In fact, the Community Foundation recently identified at least 60 opportunities locally for people of diverse backgrounds to prepare for careers, gain new skills and build their professional connections.

However, as the students’ reports point out, residents who could benefit from this wealth of resources often struggle to navigate them.

Today, business leaders in the region are working together to improve this system. This collaboration is an effort to assess the existing network of support programs and resources, and ensure that it is accessible and effective at moving people into careers.

With the recent launch of the Employer Inclusion Council, Dubuque has a new action network building bridges among leaders of local organizations and influential community members to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in workplaces and across the community.

The council is an outgrowth of the Business Leader Equity Cohort, which brings together CEOs and other executives from local organizations to explore ways to support diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that have direct economic benefits to the Dubuque region. Both groups are facilitated by the Community Foundation and include representatives from an array of local industries, plus the Greater Dubuque Development Corp.

Together, the Inclusion Council and the Equity Cohort are part of a growing framework built and maintained by organizations like the Foundation and Greater Dubuque Development that supports employer efforts to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

The Equity Cohort is essential, because backing from organizational leaders can ensure that these efforts have the intended impact. Meanwhile, the Inclusion Council, which comprises managers who oversee hiring and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, focuses on program implementation and actions that benefit people in the community.

Many organizations are represented in both groups, enhancing the synergy between leadership and management and increasing opportunities for their work to make an impact.

The new Inclusion Council, which has about 20 members and is growing, met earlier this year to build on the previously identified list of 60-plus career-prep resources and start zeroing in on opportunities for strengthening the good work already taking place across the region and filling existing gaps.

The council members also have started identifying goals for their departments and organizations and what barriers they might face to accomplishing them. Through the council, they can support one another, collaborate to achieve their goals, and deepen the impact of their organizations’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Perhaps the most significant early outcome of the Inclusion Council and the Equity Cohort is the commitment of the members. Between the two groups are about 50 leaders representing local employers who want to learn about the organizational and community benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts — and then put that knowledge into action.

We know that while Dubuque’s employment rate has rebounded in the past year, there are many people who are unemployed or underemployed. They need access to supports that help them move into good-paying jobs. At the same time, employers need workers to fill open positions.

The focus that groups like the Inclusion Council and Equity Cohort is putting on workers who have historically been underserved and under-supported has the potential to improve lives and strengthen the local economy.