Minnesota Companies Have Learned How To Recruit Minority Workers. Now The Problem Is . . . KEEPING THEM

H.J. Cummins, Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul), April 30, 2007

Julie Griffith came to the Twin Cities with a fresh MBA from Rice University for a good marketing job at American Express Financial Advisors in the summer of 2004.

She barely made it a year before going back to Houston, having lived long enough with what African-Americans call “being one of the onlies”—the only black person in a department or in the neighborhood.

“I really enjoyed the people I met there, specifically the African-American professional community,” said Griffith, now 32 and running her own public relations firm in Houston. “But that little piece was just not enough to sustain living there.”

Corporate Minnesota is increasingly aware that holding onto African-American transplants such as Griffith after firms have invested so much in getting them here is the new challenge in the pale metropolis.

While it’s an issue for all minorities, it’s most evident among black transplants, by dint of their sheer numbers here, recruiters said.

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Corporations are coming up with a new strategy: Quickly connect recruits to support groups, such as the local chapter of the National Black MBA Association. But often more important than professional ties is the lifestyle advice: where’s a good church, an ethnic market or preferred entertainment.

That’s why besides the formal work of the Minnesota Boulevard Consortium—a recruiting group of 17 major companies and two business colleges that show up in force at the National Black MBA Association’s big diversity job fair every year—members also make themselves personally available to job candidates or new hires who are looking for someone to talk to about life in the Twin Cities.

“It’s really important when a diversity candidate moves to the Twin Cities that the company reaches out and introduces them to fellow diversity employees,” said Scott Coleman, president of JobPlex in Minnetonka, which has a specialty in diversity hiring. “A diverse candidate who does not feel attached to the Twin Cities or the company will most likely leave within two years.”

The middle class

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Jeanine Lewis described her experience as “death by a million duck bites” after she came from Atlanta in 2002 for a marketing job at General Mills. She decamped three years later to take a marketing job at Shell Oil in Houston.

The Twin Cities area is beautiful, Lewis said. But it doesn’t have the variety of black-oriented radio and TV stations available in the South. It was hard finding the collard greens and salt pork she needed for traditional holiday meals. And she found few salons that could style her hair.

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“They want to be in a place with more black role models and where their children see terrifically brilliant kids who look like them,” she said.

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Organized efforts

Minnesota employers have developed various retention strategies.

At Dorsey & Whitney, for example, the law firm assigns both a mentor in the new lawyers’ field of specialty and a sponsor deliberately not—someone far from their supervisors where they feel safe opening up, said partner Cornell Moore in Minneapolis.

Also, if African-American transplants decide Minneapolis is not for them, Dorsey can relocate them from this office—with its 5 to 6 percent lawyers of color—to Palo Alto, for example, with its 21 percent, managing partner Marianne Short said.

Medtronic created an internal Professional Association Network, said Michael Valencia, workplace inclusion manager. Through it, Medtronic employees who belong to the professional associations where Medtronic looks to recruit—such as the Black MBAs and the National Society of Black Engineers—volunteer to become an instant network for new hires, Valencia said.

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