Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque Convenes New Business Leader Equity Cohort

Read an update about the Business Leader Equity Cohort from March 2021

A new group of Dubuque-area business executives, convened by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, is working to foster a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion across their organizations — and throughout the community.

The Business Leader Equity Cohort met for the first time Wednesday, Oct. 31, at John Deere Dubuque Works to begin sharing experiences and information about inclusive practices that can help increase access to jobs across the region. The group is planning to meet again early in 2019, and then on a re-occurring basis to continue to identify and implement solutions they can champion.

“The goal is to create a network of business leaders who can work together to reduce barriers to employment and increase financial stability for lower wage earners,” said Nancy Van Milligen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. 

Expanding the available workforce pipeline

In a region with low unemployment like Dubuque, employers must look harder to find employees for open positions. One way to do this, as the cohort is exploring, is to consciously build bridges with potential employees who historically have faced challenges entering the workforce, including minority and low-income residents.

Marty Burbridge, president and CEO of Crescent Electric Supply Company, is participating in the cohort and said he sees the need for growth-oriented businesses like his to have access to a motivated and qualified labor force to accomplish its objectives.

“The opportunity to help expand the available workforce through increased inclusion of diverse populations is beneficial to the entire business community,” he said. “Creating a community of openness and inclusivity begins with creating employment opportunities that bring satisfaction and genuine interest to all.”

That’s one of the key take-aways Paul Duster, CFGD’s community initiatives director, hopes to relay within the cohort. “It’s not just about the environment we create at a place of employment but also in the community,” he said. “New staff are bringing spouses and their children who need to succeed in our schools and feel welcome in restaurants, stores, places of worship, and throughout the community.”

The Dubuque region has become more diverse and inclusive over the years, thanks to the efforts of business and community leaders, said Mark Dickson, general manager of John Deere Dubuque Works, who joined the cohort. But, he added, there is more work to do.

“In order to stay ahead of the times, our business community needs to collaborate and work together to help move our diversity and inclusion initiatives faster,” he said.

Attracting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce

Oather Taylor, former director of recruitment and diversity at Alliant Energy, is working with the Community Foundation to facilitate the cohort. He first became interested in workplace diversity as a young engineer, realizing minorities and women were underrepresented in the industry, and spent his career working with business leaders to establish inclusive practices.

“Our businesses and regional communities benefit from ensuring the local workforce has the needed skill sets, and by being able attract and retain the talent needed to ensure continued success,” said Taylor. He emphasized the value of collaboration across the community. “Many organizations have ongoing efforts related to diversity, equity and inclusion, but in general, these efforts are siloed within each company. The cohort will allow dialog among leaders and set the stage for collective objectives that the cohort will lead and support.” 

The cohort is part of CFGD’s equity initiative and builds on the foundation’s other business best practice initiatives. The Foundation is currently hosting Race Forward, an interactive training process for non-profit organizations to build the skills to address structural racism and advance racial equity. Another education opportunity sponsored by CFGD is an eight-month peer-learning workshop series known as Best Practices in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion being held in partnership with the Inclusive Dubuque Network.

“It is a complex issue, but it was exciting to hear business leaders take ownership of this as a complex issue, just like they own complex financing or operations issues,” said Duster. “Upcoming meetings will focus on attracting and maintaining minority population students who are already living in the community, improving diversity within the existing workforce, and retaining current diverse employee populations.”

The cohort will meet next in early 2019. For more information, contact Paul Duster at or 563.588.2700.