Minnesota companies launch new push to retain professionals of colorby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota is becoming increasingly diverse and many local companies are trying to reflect that diversity in their workplaces. While some companies have had success recruiting professionals of color to the Twin Cities, they've sometimes had difficulty retaining them. Several area companies have joined forces to try to change that.
St. Paul, Minn. — Charise Rhodes has a love-hate relationship with the Twin Cities. The Kansas City native has been here for 15 years. She likes the job opportunities, the low crime rate and cleanliness of the Twin Cities.
"But when it comes to the socialization as an African-American female, it would get a little difficult at times to either find someone to date or to find different activities," she says.
When Rhodes first moved here, one of her primary social networks was her alumni association. She's a graduate of Florida A-and-M University. But she also had assistance from the Black Relocation Association, a personal service that helped African-Americans settle into the Twin Cities. The service helped her with the basics, like find an apartment, Rhodes says.
"There was a packet of information that was -- here's where to get your hair done in the Twin Cities as a black person, here's a group of black churches, here's some African-American organizations that are going on."
Information like that is key to helping transplants, Rhodes says, especially those from traditional minority groups -- feel at home in the Twin Cities.
The Black Relocation Association isn't around any more. But several local corporations are kicking off a program called The Partnership -- a nine-month orientation, which is designed to provide leadership and community development for professionals of color. About 10 people will participate in the inaugural class. Two are from Target. Getting employees connected in the community is a win for Target, says the corporation's manager of diversity and retention, Ben Elkin.
"The fact of the matter is if we're bringing somebody in the door, we're really passionate about our belief that they're going to have a great career at Target," said Elkin. "And so we want to do everything that we can to set them up for success in that way."
Helping new employees get entrenched, not only in the corporate culture, but also in the local community, is smart business since employee turn-over can be expensive, Elkin says. Industry figures for the cost of replacing employees is 150 percent of their salaries.
Although Target would not reveal its turnover rate, research shows that in the Twin Cities it takes 18 to 24 months for new employees to get fully connected. For people of color, it can take twice as long.
The Partnership is more than just offering a welcome basket, organizers say. But maintaining a diverse workforce also takes more than a nine-month orientation program.
A program like The Partnership can be helpful, but corporations must also do their internal work, says Jessica Mork, president of the Twin Cities chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBA's. "Whether it's getting your senior leadership to buy into the diversity initiatives, creating good affinity groups, having the mentor programs and then somehow working towards just building the diversity initiatives, it's part of your corporate culture. That's your first step," she says.
And another step is making sure employees are happy overall. A Boston program also called The Partnership was the inspiration for the Twin Cities program. The program has been around for more than 20 years and the experience of that program shows individual development is only one part of the puzzle, says Beverly Edgehill, president of The Partnership in Boston.
"Organizations like this can make resources known to individuals, but if people are not having a good work experience, they're going to leave regardless of what the resources are," she says.
Companies must also provide career planning and development as well as talent assessment so that employees will know the company is committed to them and then they, in turn will likely be more committed to the company, she says.
- Morning Edition, 05/21/2008, 7:20 a.m.