Inventing and Innovating to Tackle Minnesota’s Racial Disparities

compassLast week, I was fortunate to attend the Minnesota Compass annual meeting. It was great to celebrate this organization’s work in advancing our understanding of Minnesota now and in the future, and to reflect on what these statistics mean for our state.

The most sobering findings won’t surprise anyone who’s heard about Minnesota’s large racial achievement gaps, but they’re always worth repeating:

  • 84% of white students graduate high school on time in Minnesota, compared to 51% of Hispanic students, 49% of black students and 42% of American Indian students.
  • A 39-percentage-point home ownership gap exists between white households and households of color, compared to just 25 percentage points for the country at large.
  • Only 9% of white Minnesotans live in poverty, compared to 37% of blacks and 40% of American Indians.

Craig Helmstetter of Minnesota Compass pointed out that closing these gaps would produce a huge economic boost for the state — if the poverty rate for people of color is reduced to the level for whites, it would be the equivalent of lifting the whole population of St. Paul out of poverty.

How can we address these longstanding issues in innovative ways? That was our challenge from keynote speaker Alex Cirillo, now retired and formerly 3M vice president for community affairs and vice president of the 3M Foundation (an MCF member). He asked us to recreate 3M’s model for invention and innovation at our tables, with some of us assuming each of these roles:

  • Specialists: The subject experts with advanced technical knowledge about a specific area.
  • Scouts: Those who help advance solutions by making new connections with existing information.
  • Adapters: The ones who “do stuff,” supporting development of new technologies and applications.
  • Architects: Those who can apply specific knowledge to a wide range of fields and identify breakthroughs.

My table was tasked with using this model to tackle the question of how we erase Minnesota’s racial disparities in unemployment. I’m sure we didn’t solve everything in our 20-minute discussion, but we kicked around some good ideas:

  • Where’s the “eHarmony” for jobs, a site that matches employees and employers on the skills and values they truly care about instead of one standardized resume process?
  • Can employers think more creatively about job requirements? One foundation employee at my table said that, when her organization removed a bachelor’s degree requirement in job applications and looked for other demonstrations of talent, it was able to hire more employees more representative of the community it serves with no decrease in quality.
  • What about more overt discrimination in hiring? We’ve seen studies showing that resumes with white-sounding names get callbacks at far higher rates than those with black-sounding names. We have to face these challenges head-on instead of blaming cultural issues in minority populations.
  • Could employers be educators?  If manufacturers and others spent a couple years building up young trainees in the skills they need to succeed, could we bypass to some extent the education gap as an employment issue?

Minnesota Compass has more highlights and resources from this event on its website. And if you’re interested in exploring themes of diversity in Minnesota more deeply, don’t miss MCF’s new issue of Giving Forum, devoted to how all of us can work for greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

-Chris Oien, MCF web communications associate

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