Early in my career I sought out professional and social groups of color in the Twin Cities. I knew that these groups existed, but I didn’t know how to access them or sustain the initial connections once they were made. I finally left in search of places where I could connect consistently and meaningfully with people of color. I lived in London and Philadelphia and in these cities found my sense of place, sense of community, and sense of belonging. It fed my soul. To clarify, it was not solely the abundance of people of color in these cities that satisfied me. It was the frequency, strength, and variety of these groups that mattered. I could find them in church and at work. I also could find them spontaneously meeting at happy hour at a trendy restaurant or even at dinner party in a crowded home or apartment. I deeply wanted to remain permanently, but I chose to live closer to my family in the Twin Cities. I moved back to Minnesota, unsure of the process of trying to find a community again.
As I returned to the region, I pondered the following questions. If I am a native Minnesotan and struggle to remain in the region, what is it like for transplants of color? Why is it so hard to find a social and professional pathway for professionals of color? What would it take to provide a thriving community of professionals of color, helping them to stay longer than just a few years? I entered this role at SPACC with these questions in mind and within the first five weeks at the Chamber, some of the answers started to emerge. I learned that there are well over 70 professional groups (or Affinity Groups) and several social networking groups for people of color. These groups are often volunteer-led and the board and leadership of these groups generally don’t have the time to frequently update their website, social media pages, or spend time and energy planning a series of events for their members. Even more apparent is that these groups often work in silos. They often don’t collaborate because the barriers to researching and finding similar groups and events are too high with their hectic schedules. It is important to note that another form of professional groups include the well-established Employee Resource Groups of Color (ERGs) at many of our Fortune 500 companies. These groups interact within companies, but not always across companies which also diminishes the potential for a robust community.
Through some fantastic meetings with several Affinity Groups and very supportive SPACC colleagues, I identified preliminary solutions that would highlight the professional and social groups for people of color, as well as breakdown the silos between ethnicity and sectors. First, I started making critical introductions and connections. For instance, I learned that the Hispanic Engineers and the Black Engineers hadn't met each other, yet expressed interest in connecting. I brought those folks together and earned the nickname, "The Matchmaker." Second, we created a section on our SPACC website titled, “Professionals of Color.” We have started to place the logos and events of multiple Affinity Groups on the site, which are accessible to professionals across the Twin Cities. Third, we have partnered with Greater MSP and Make It. MSP. to connect professionals of color with their social inclusion and retention efforts. Fourth, we have started planning social events for professionals of color in early 2016. Finally, we have purchased a table at our monthly SPACC Membership Meetings for professionals of color, giving them the chance to interact with our business network and each other.
I am excited and proud to work on retaining professionals of color. I am grateful to join such a great team at SPACC. I believe that helping to strengthen the existing diverse communities for professionals of color is a step in the right direction. We know that the stronger these groups and networks are, the more likely new hires will remain in the region, strengthening our region and bringing diversity to our business community.
If you are a member of an Affinity Group or Employee Resource Group and would like us to add your events and logo to our website, please contact me - firstname.lastname@example.org // 651.265.2795 (office) // 612.430.1496 (cell).
Happy business and welcome to the initiative!