Executive Letter: Representation, Identity, and Diversity

The racial injustice and unrest we have witnessed are stark reminders that there is more we all must do to improve equality and fair treatment for everyone. As community leaders, bankers are in a unique position to continue stepping forward and leading on the path toward full equality. Black History Month is dedicated to honoring the achievements of Black Americans and I’m proud of the many ways Wisconsin bankers and WBA are doing this for people of all diverse backgrounds not only in the month of February, but all year long. 

When Carter G. Woodson and the association he founded (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) launched a “Negro History Week” in 1926, he realized the importance of providing a theme to focus the public’s attention on important developments that merit emphasis. When President Gerald Ford decreed Black History Month a national observance in 1976, his message encouraged everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” You can read more about this history at the association’s website.  

This month, we are celebrating the 95th annual black history theme of “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” Bankers through their daily work help improve the financial lives of black families, along with all others, by providing products, education, and trusted advice. I believe that honoring black families also means recognizing the entrepreneurial spirit of black men and women to start and own businesses. Several bankers from across the state joined me in a special working group assembled by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) over these last several months to develop solutions to help transition BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) businesses with revenues of $250,000 – $1 million into the banking system. Four black business owners were part of these conversations sharing their perspectives to help improve access to capital for all BIPOC businesses. At the end of this month, WEDC will convene the larger group to make final decisions on which initiatives to move forward. This initiative with WEDC is just one of the many ways bankers are involved to help improve the economic lives of all diverse individuals, including black individuals.  

In December, the WBA Board approved a comprehensive plan to help guide the association’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. One of the first outcomes of the plan was hosting a webinar in December with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on “How to Be An Anti-Racist” and sharing his book with over 400 banker participants. WBA’s DEI plan is focused on 5 core areas with the goal of providing value to and for the industry: governance, communications, education, associate members, and talent attraction. A key part of success for our plan will be the active involvement of volunteer bankers.

Thank you for all you do to help improve the financial lives of all black families, in addition to other persons of color, LGBTQ individuals, veterans, and other diverse individuals. It is an honor to work alongside you in this evolution toward equality.

By, Alex Paniagua