Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Richard Ballenger works to promote diversity, inclusion in the workplace
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- When you don't know the answer to a question, it's almost always best to ask. Richard Ballenger felt that way last summer while watching the social justice movement that followed George Floyd's murder.
He wanted to address diversity and inclusion in his workplace, but he wasn't sure where to start.
He reached out to his staff to get some answers, and now a year later, their answers are getting results.
Ballenger is the president at Milwaukee's Lucas Milhaupt.
"You can find our products in HVAC, automotive, airplanes," Ballenger said of the work they do.
Lucas Milhaupt has been in Milwaukee for more than 75 years.
"We are a global manufacturer of brazing alloys and fluxes, for metal joining applications," he said.
There's a wall inside the facility showing how long employees have worked there -- many for decades. Children have followed their parents into this line of work, so in a lot of ways, it feels like a family.
But last summer's protests made Ballenger question how Lucas Milhaupt could improve on inclusion and diversity.
"I actually had an outreach to the whole company to say, I don't know what to do, but if you guys have ideas I'm willing to listen. I'm willing to support any way that I can," Ballenger said. "It was actually amazing, because we had an all-employee meeting and within hours, Richaad Reed reached out to me and said, 'I've got an idea.'"
Richaad Reed is now the national account manager at Lucas Milhaupt. With a torch in hand, he showed us the basics of some of what they do.
"So, you can see the copper oxidizing, it's getting darker, changing colors," Reed said of the quickly heating metal.
He started here 12 years ago while attending Marquette University, and worked as an application engineer. He's been promoted several times.
"At that point, you add the alloy," he said, melting it to bond the two pieces of metal.
This is something all new employees get to try to do. After Ballenger's question, Reed started thinking about how to bring people together, too.
"I talked to my wife, to my family, to see, hey, what ideas are out there that other companies are doing to really promote diversity and inclusion and help people feel comfortable in the work force," Reed said.
He suggested starting an employee resource group, or ERG. People from diverse backgrounds come together and share ideas.
"It helps people feel comfortable speaking their mind, which is a big factor of inclusion, right," Reed said.
Ballenger told him to run with the idea.
"Within weeks, we got that rolling and a lot of good things have come from that," Ballenger said.
The ERG has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. They've had fun for a good cause -- hosting an ice cream social to raise money for Covid-19 relief in India.
"It was really well received by everybody in the company and we sold ice cream for $2-3 per cup," said quality assurance manager, Haritha Karanam. "And people who were lactose intolerant were there just to donate, so it was amazing."
Karanam said they also created a company cookbook to share recipes from different cultures. But the ERG is also tackling some serious issues, such as unconscious bias, holding training to address it.
"It's a difficult conversation to begin with initially, and then after a while, it's like, yeah," said Karanam said of that lightbulb moment. "Now I think, ding, ding, ding, this is what it is, right?"
Reed now also meets all new hires at Lucas Milhaupt. The company is focusing on recruiting and hiring diverse job candidates.
"I'm noticing that all the different people I'm seeing coming in the door at Lucas Milhaupt are changing," Reed said. "I'm seeing a wide variety of individuals coming into Lucas, and that's definitely going to be making an impact."
Ballenger said the company is growing quickly, and it helps to empower employees to make the business better.
"The goal is that everybody that's already here feels included and this is a great place to work, but we want to make it a great place to work that more people want to come," Ballenger said.
For information on job opportunities at Lucas Milhaupt, just visit www.lucasmilhaupt.com.
If you'd like to nominate someone for Natalie's Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.