WAUKESHA, WI–Ethnic diversity within the ranks of Milwaukee Electric & Gas was celebrated Monday with a catered, compulsory all-staff luncheon in the seventh-floor conference room of the company's suburban Milwaukee headquarters.

Diversity luncheon guest speaker Gene Ralston addresses the compliant audience.

"Come to Room 711 at noon and celebrate the wonderful diversity of both our company and the public it serves!" read a morning memo reminding employees of the luncheon. "Plenty of delicious food and drink from T.J.'s Subs will be provided, so bring your appetite. Attendance is mandatory."

"The fact that ME&G is setting aside valuable working hours for this luncheon says a lot about its deep commitment to multiculturalism," said Allen Ledevest, ME&G's director of corporate communications. "Not every company would provide employees with the non-optional chance to eat hearty foot-longs and chips in honor of our nation's glorious mosaic of cultures and ethnicities."

At precisely 12 p.m., the company's 189 employees, including executives, secretaries, consumer-helpline representatives, and mail clerks, dutifully filed into the Harold T. Kjell Conference Room, which had been decorated with "ME&G: Our Differences Make The Difference!" posters.

"I'd like to thank all of you who had no choice but to take time out of your busy schedules to help us express our dedication to all the colors of the rainbow," ME&G Diversity Committee chair Eileen Johansen announced. "Let's give a hand to the truly magnificent spectrum of races and faces we serve as the leading utility provider for the greater Milwaukee area."

"Now, grab some food and find a seat, please," Johansen added. "We've only got an hour."

ME&G, Johansen proudly announced, was among 200 U.S. utility companies selected to receive $15,000 grants from the Mobil Foundation to recognize diversity in their communities, as well as within their companies. Of that money, $13,500 was used to create a glossy, full-color brochure paying tribute to famous African Americans in Milwaukee history. Timed to coincide with Black History Month, the brochure was included with the February bill of all ME&G customers. The remaining $1,500 was used to buy food and "Many Colors, One World" paper plates for the obligatory luncheon, as well as to hire a guest speaker.

"I can't tell you how pleased I am to be a part of this wonderful luncheon," said Gene Ralston of the Wisconsin Multicultural Council, a non-profit organization which promotes understanding among different ethnic groups throughout the state. "Events like this are a great way to foster understanding of one another. You see, the thing we all share is that none of us are the same."

"Take a look around at your co-workers," continued Ralston, addressing the overwhelmingly Caucasian crowd. "Black, white, Hispanic, Native American, Hmong–regardless of your race, you all have something in common: the threat of docked timecards if you did not attend this luncheon."