1000 voices

Can you be your authentic self at work? How do you respond (or not respond) to experiences with bias or discrimination? Do leaders in your community reflect you and your background? Last year, we asked professionals of color from across the Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) region these questions and many others to better understand their true experiences living and working here. More than 1,200 professionals of color came forward to make their voices heard. What we learned matters to everyone who cares about the future of MSP.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – let’s talk about who did the asking. Hundreds of people working in business, government, universities, cities and other organizations are working together through a new initiative called Make It. MSP. to make this metro the best place in the country for motivated people of all backgrounds to come, stay and thrive. One early focus for Make It. MSP. is finding ways to improve the retention of professionals of color.

That’s because the numbers reveal a complex story for how professionals of color choose to come, stay and leave MSP. Census data show professionals of color come to MSP from other parts of the U.S. at higher rates than white professionals yet choose to stay here much less often. So we want to know more about what draws people here and what all of us can do to do a better job holding onto them. That’s why we built a team of diverse professionals, conducted focus groups and put out the survey.

Overall, the feedback told us people come for career opportunities, stay for family and leave because they feel the metro lacks diversity and cultural awareness. Digging deeper, key themes emerged that draw a more detailed and interconnected picture about challenges in and out of the workplace.

We know more now than we ever have before about the challenges professionals of color experience in MSP. It’s time to get to work. We want you to read the early findings, share the information within your organization and across your networks, and get involved in a growing movement focused on improving inclusion. All of us working together through Make It. MSP. are convinced this is an economic imperative and the right thing to do. The Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area is on pace to be 100,000 workers short by 2020. So not becoming more inclusive will cost us the talent we need to support a healthy economy. And we absolutely have to go beyond simply diversifying our workplaces and communities and do the much harder work of making them truly inclusive.

Living in MSP

Culturally-Specific Amenities & Disparities – Believe it or not, weather isn’t a significant problem in retention. In fact, respondents acknowledged the many positive attributes of the region, including the arts and outdoors. However, respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of culturally relevant events and activities. While interpretations of what it means to be culturally relevant vary, respondents noted that common elements include feeling a sense of community through a shared space and finding authentic representations and experiences of one’s culture.

Connection – Building connections with people forms the very basis of the human experience. In MSP, professionals of color cited significant challenges in forming meaningful connections and relationships, particularly outside of the workplace. Figuring out how to improve the 5-9 pm experience will be a critical component of retaining professionals of color.

Bias & Discrimination At the heart of these issues lies the frequent experiences professionals of color have had with bias and discrimination. Through personal stories and anecdotes, individuals revealed how the MSP culture often creates more subtle experiences with discrimination and bias such as micro-aggressions and implicit bias. This can make it more challenging and at times exhausting to assess how to respond and/or adapt to a world where you’re consistently treated as though you’re the “other.”

Working in MSP

RepresentationOverwhelmingly, respondents felt that diversity was not reflected in organizational leadership. Whether in the workplace or throughout the community, those in influential positions too often do not reflect the true diversity that resides within the region. This perception extends to board rooms, civic organizations and local media.

Professional Advancement MSP’s career opportunities are a major draw for professionals of color all over the nation. Beyond the job, professionals of color are not necessarily seeing a path for diverse talent to advance within their organizations. Respondents perceived unclear paths to promotion and barriers accessing networks and development opportunities. Companies will need to create and promote more intentional pathways for people of color to advance.

Diversity & Inclusion Efforts in the Workplace When it comes to Diversity and Inclusion efforts in the workplace, good intentions are falling short on translating to real impact. The lack of cultural competence in the workplace was cited as a major factor that could be contributing to the ineffectiveness of Diversity & Inclusion programs. Ultimately, programs and efforts fall short as they are not interwoven into the fabric of an organization and are not changing the day-to-day culture.

What comes next

This is everyone’s issue, so everyone needs to be a part of the solution. On February 1st at the University of St. Thomas, 300 business, governmental and community leaders and local media outlets gathered to hear these insights and consider how they and their organizations could take action. This was an important milestone in the work. Having this data means we can – and must – move into a higher gear on diversity and inclusion efforts in this region. These aren’t just stories anymore; this is a picture of the reality for the fastest growing part of our workforce. And the reality we see demands action.

This year is about moving from data to action at the personal, organizational and regional level. Real change will be challenging, uncomfortable and potentially disruptive. But this is what must happen to move toward a better region. We hope you’ll join us on this path to build a more diverse and inclusive community where everyone can thrive.

Written by Duchesne Drew, Community Network Vice President, Bush Foundation & Make It. MSP. Professionals of Color Strategy Team Member

View the full research results.

Check out some of the media coverage of the February 1st event at the University of St. Thomas:


Duchesne Drew is the Bush Foundation Community Network Vice President & a Make It. MSP. Professionals of Color Strategy Team Member. He oversees and integrates the work of the Bush Foundation communications, community innovation and leadership programs teams. A key part of Duchesne’s role is building partnerships with related organizations and leaders as well as helping to link and grow formal and informal networks across the region. His teams’ key programs include: The Bush Fellowship Program, Ecosystem Grants, Community Innovation Grants, The Bush Prize for Community Innovation and bushCONNECT. 

Follow him on Twitter at @DPDREW.