Who are Minnesota’s leaders? When the Bush Foundation convened more than 200 community leaders in 2019, there was a unanimous call for more readily available and easily accessible cross-sector data on this topic. Minnesota Compass and the Bush Foundation responded to that call by teaming up to answer the question of who holds leadership positions in Minnesota’s business, government and nonprofit sectors. 

Who Leads in Minnesota? is a project of Minnesota Compass, powered by the Bush Foundation. The project analyzes data from national surveys on an annual basis to provide estimates of the number of top executives and elected leaders in Minnesota by gender, race, age, education, wage level, disability, veteran status, and more.

“For Minnesota to be its best, we need talented leaders from all backgrounds to make our institutions work well for all,” said Anita Patel, vice president of grantmaking at the Bush Foundation. “Leaders shape our institutions and make decisions that have long-standing and wide-ranging impact on communities. It matters, therefore, that these leaders are reflective of and responsive to the diversity of those they employ and serve.” 

The leadership program directory includes statewide and national programs with a focus on developing leadership for LGBT+, BIPOC, rural communities and women.

The researchers also joined with the League of Minnesota Cities, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to collect and analyze detailed data on the characteristics of leaders in local government, nonprofits, and businesses across the state. These sectors were chosen because they have a significant impact on thousands of people every day. 

Early Findings 

Barriers in hiring processes are affecting leadership opportunities, the research shows. Hiring practices may keep qualified adults of color from leadership positions or diminish retention of diverse leaders. And government leaders of color are more likely to be elected to their positions than to be hired compared to their white counterparts. 

Strengthening Minnesota 

Patel emphasized the importance of understanding the diversity of leaders. “If we are to respond to future workforce needs, increase equity and inclusion in our businesses and institutions, and strengthen social, economic, and cultural ties that make Minnesota unique, we need to understand who leads,” said Patel. “We want this research to be widely accessible and to provide concrete information about where change is happening and the distance we have to go.”  

While 15% of Minnesota’s adults are people of color, only about 5% of leaders across Minnesota are people of color. But even as our state has become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, the share of leaders who identify as people of color has remained flat.

Two examples of how employers in Minnesota are advancing diverse and inclusive leadership include the City of Richfield and ALLETE. These examples were shared with researchers in the first phase of Who Leads in Minnesota?.

When the City of Richfield conducted an employee engagement survey, one finding caught the attention of human resources manager Krista Guzmán: people wanted more leadership opportunities. The City responded by creating its Enriching Leadership Academy, which brings together emerging leaders and those already in leadership positions for both formal and informal learning opportunities.  

Similarly, ALLETE, a publicly held energy company headquartered in Duluth, began to recognize the need for both formal and informal leaders to have leadership training. “We realized that educational level does not equal leadership abilities, that mid-level leadership programs needed to be much more equitable, and that frontline leaders benefited tremendously from leadership training,” said Dawn Johnson, ALLETE’s Learning and Development Analyst. 

In addition to the research, the Who Leads in Minnesota? website also includes a Racial Equity Resource Directory and Leadership Programs Resource Directory that are continually updated, as well as a Leadership Toolkit, with many resources for training, hiring and promotions, staff programming, and workplace culture. 

To better understand the leadership development resources Minnesota employers provide to their staff, Wilder Research conducted 59 interviews with staff from the business, nonprofit, and government sectors. Here’s what researchers found.

To learn more, visit mncompass.org/who-leads-mn