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Training will save employers money in long run, owner says

Lawyer puts legal experience to work in diversity training

JACKSON — Companies spend a lot of money these days defending themselves against discrimination charges, but it seems Vangela M. Wade has found a way to lessen — if not eliminate — such situations.

Wade is president and chief consultant of the new Jackson-based Wade Group, which provides training and consulting services, organizational assessment, retreats, symposiums and workshops. Her mission is to provide effective and creative training in the areas of diversity awareness, sensitivity, fair employment practices and understanding of cultural differences.

“I figured if companies were spending as much as they were defending charges and complaints that their money would be better spent paying for training and getting a better workforce,” Wade said.

Wade practiced law with Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC for three years before opening The Wade Group Sept. 1, 2001, but her career in law did not begin there.

After graduating from Mississippi State University in 1984 with a degree in political science, Wade worked for the Department of the Army as a budget analyst assistant at the National Training Institute at Ft. Erwin in California. She later worked for the Army Air Force Exchange Service as a department manager. Her career in the Department of the Army continued at the military hospital at Ft. Erwin where she served as social services assistant, coordinating special family programs for military family members.

Wade first became familiar with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at Ft. Erwin when she worked as an EEOC assistant for the Department of the Army. Later she moved to Atlanta to work for the Decatur/DeKalb Housing Authority as a housing advisor, and in 1993 she entered law school at the University of Mississippi. She received her JD in 1996 and then clerked for the Mississippi Court of Appeals. Soon she became an assistant district attorney in Madison County. About four years ago, she took the job with Butler, Snow where she practiced labor and employment law.

“I can’t get away from my legal practice, and I don’t want to because I think employers are better served by those with knowledge of the legal practice,” Wade said. She routinely looks to current case law and the EEOC for guidance with regard to diversity in the workforce.

Wade also believes she is better suited to consult and train companies than others because of the 10 years she spent in the workforce before receiving her law degree.

“I think that gives me a well-rounded perspective when I’m looking at the workforce,” Wade said. “I’m not someone who went straight from the books trying to train people. I can call on those experiences as well as my legal experience.”

Wade began thinking about opening The Wade Group about a year ago. She found the nature of the lawsuits that Butler, Snow was defending and case law was similar, and she came to believe that a number of the EEOC complaints and charges against businesses were the result of ineffective training or a total lack of training, understanding of the law and insensitivity toward other employees.

Diversity issues won’t go away

“Diversity is a hard issue for people to delve into and a lot of times employers won’t, thinking the issues in the workplace will go away,” Wade said. “But research has shown that it will not go away, whether it’s race, gender or otherwise.”

While looking at an organization’s culture with regard to diversity and fair employment practices is important, a company must decide whether the existing culture of the organization can actually support the training. She compared this assessment to the root, trunk and branches of a tree.

“If you’ve not done what is necessary to nourish the roots of a tree it won’t support the changes above the roots,” Wade said. “This is similar to the way diversity works. Based on the existing culture, practices, norms and traditions in a workplace, training may not work. It may be a waste of money. Organizations must determine if the existing cultures hinder diversity or any type of training.”

Wade helps companies decide what type of training is needed and what would be most effective for the group of employees they’re going to train. Afterward the plan is implemented. Depending on the results of the assessment, training can last half a day or more. All training is interactive.

“A lot of people think diversity means only race and gender issues, but it extends far beyond that,” Wade said. “I think when you have a workforce and a society like we do, you have to realize that it includes intergenerational differences, educational differences, varying goals and differences such as a person’s tenure on a job, physical appearance and economic status. When you have people bringing these differences into a workplace you may sometimes have tension and may not know where it’s coming from if you aren’t aware of the extent of diversity. Through training, employers can use these differences to increase productivity, decrease liability and increase employee loyalty and retention.”

Wade believes diversity management, fair employment practices and effective training in both is “just good business sense.”

Martha Holloway, EEO program assistant at G.V. Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, said the diversity training Wade did for one of the medical center’s services was excellent.

“It just kept our attention,” Holloway said. “She is just a really good trainer.”

Robert Langford, executive director of Operation Shoestring in Jackson, also said the organizational training Wade provided for the management of his organization was excellent. Langford was especially impressed that Wade was able to integrate the ideas and concerns of staff members into her presentation.

“She didn’t just drop a template on us,” he said. “There are a lot of people who bill themselves as team development trainers or providers and it’s indeed tough to find the perfect marriage between your organization and the skills of trainers. For us it (The Wade Group) was a good fit. I would encourage folks who are looking at doing staff training or development to look at who the consultant is to make sure there’s a real good fit.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.

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