For Minnesota to be its best, we need talented leaders from all backgrounds to make our institutions work well for all.

Leaders shape our institutions. They define organizational culture and make decisions that have long-standing and wide-ranging impact on people and communities. It matters, therefore, that these leaders are reflective of and responsive to the diversity of those they employ and serve.

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what we have learned so far

On dimensions of race, ethnicity, and gender, our leaders look very different from Minnesota's overall population.


While 17% of Minnesota’s adults are people of color, only about 9% 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.

Bar chart showing percentage of both Minnesotans of color and adults of color --as listed in article text.


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We would need to see nearly twice as many people of color in positions of leadership in order to reach parity with the population of color among Minnesota’s adults. 

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Women are also underrepresented in positions of leadership in Minnesota. While 49% of Minnesota’s adults are women, only 24% of leaders across Minnesota are women. Across sectors, women’s representation in business leadership lags behind their representation in nonprofit and government leadership. When women do lead in the business sector, survey data show that women tend to lead smaller businesses.

Chart showing that although women make up half of adult Minnesotans, only 1 in 4 are in leadership positions.

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We would need to see at least twice as many women in positions of leadership in order to reach parity with the population of women among Minnesota’s adults. 

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With much of the Baby Boomer generation in the midst of retirement, young adults need to be encouraged into leadership pathways and promoted into leadership positions to ensure smooth transitions of authority and institutions. Young adults are underrepresented in leadership positions in Minnesota. Young adults represent 26% of Minnesota’s leaders, but 46% of all adults in the state.

It could be argued that this is a function of time in the labor force. That is, young adults will transition into leadership roles as their training and experience grow. But young adults are not only underrepresented in leadership roles. The share of young adults in leadership is also declining. Today, about one in four leaders in Minnesota is a Millennial, compared to one in three leaders just a few years ago.

The government sector is at a particularly critical point in needing to transition leadership to younger generations. Today, more than half of government leaders are Baby Boomers or older, while only about one in eight leaders in government is a Millennial. If pathways and promotions are not clear and open for Minnesotans in early- to mid-career, how might current trends in aging create almost immediate challenges for transitions in leadership in Minnesota, especially in the government sector?

Bar chart showing percentage of both young adults in Minnesota, and of young leaders --as listed in article text.

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If pathways to leadership are not clear and open for young Minnesotans, impending retirements among Baby Boomers will exacerbate existing challenges for transitions in leadership.

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Hiring practices may keep qualified adults of color from leadership positions. Our survey data includes government sector respondents who were both hired into their positions and elected. Leaders of color in government are more commonly elected into their positions than White leaders in government, while leaders who are White are more commonly externally hired into their positions. Barriers inherent in the hiring process may decrease perceptions of an open diversity climate, which in turn diminish retention of diverse leaders and reduce anticipated self-efficacy among talent with promising leadership potential.

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Media requests

Wendy Huckaby
Communications Manager  
651-239-7554 (cell)

oneAnalyzing census data

Minnesota Compass researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey 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.

twoSurveying local leaders to learn more

Because the national census data is incomplete in many areas, Wilder Research partnered with 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.

Inspiration and resources to spark change

Learn how organizations and communities are championing diverse and inclusive leadership, and explore our leadership resources.

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The Bakken Museum

The Bakken Museum is committed to an inclusive work environment "where people can bring their full identities, where people want to stay."

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Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling

"Problem gambling treatment historically is designed for the white culture, but we know people from all our communities are affected by gambling disorder," says MNAPG Executive Director Susan Sheridan Tucker. Her organization is changing that by cultivating leaders and service providers of color so every Minnesotan receives culturally relevant treatment.

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City of Richfield

The City of Richfield's Enriching Leadership Academy brings together a cohort of developing leaders with those already in leadership positions for both formal and informal learning opportunities.

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The Anderson Center

Inclusive leadership at the Anderson Center in Red Wing means listening to and making new ideas happen, such as its successful Deaf artist residency program.

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Graywolf Press

Professional growth conversations and a new fellowship for people of color starting out in the publishing industry are fostering a culture of inclusion at Graywolf Press.

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The publicly held energy company takes a broad view of who is considered a leader and exposes a broad variety of people to important concepts in, and critical skills for, leadership. The company was recently recognized for the number of women on its board and executive team.

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City of Minneapolis

A new leadership development model, a performance review system that integrates cultural competency, and employee resource groups reflect the City of Minneapolis’ intentional commitment to equity.

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Charities Review Council

Charities Review Council leaders developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit for nonprofits and doubled down on its own equity efforts.

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Restorative Justice Community Action 

Restorative Justice Community Action depends on deep and authentic relationships to build a diverse pool of facilitators for its work to repair the harm caused by crime or conflict.

Minnesota Compass and the Bush Foundation teamed up to provide a holistic picture of institutional leadership in our state and how our institutions are developing the talent Minnesota needs.

Demographic data on who holds leadership positions in business, government, and nonprofits in Minnesota have not been readily available or easily accessible, nor has information about what is helping foster more equitable and inclusive leadership.


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who leads

We will research Minnesota’s leaders in the business, government and nonprofit sectors

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Share promising practices

We will uncover how sectors develop the talent Minnesota needs 

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We aim to inspire employers to foster more equitable and inclusive leadership

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We will track leadership data on a regular basis

About the leadership surveys

Wilder Research and Bush Foundation partnered with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to survey business leaders and partnered with the League of Minnesota Cities to survey government leaders.

The survey of government leaders was open from Feb. 19 – March 16, 2020. Of the 4,026 government leaders invited to complete the survey, 1,116 responded, for a response rate of 28%.

The survey of business leaders was open from July 24 – September 1, 2020. Of the 1,064 business leaders invited to complete the survey, 135 responded, for a response rate of 13%.

Wilder Research and Bush Foundation partnered with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to survey leaders. Chief executive officers (CEOs) and executive directors (EDs) were invited to participate in a demographic survey to supplement estimates of people serving as nonprofit leaders across Minnesota.

The survey of nonprofit leaders was open from March 27 – August 24, 2020. Of the 3,722 nonprofits invited to complete the survey, 369 responded, for a response rate of 10%.

The nonprofit sector included respondents who identify as nonbinary, women, men, and individuals who opted to self-describe their gender identity. The government sector included respondents who identify as transgender, nonbinary, women, men, and individuals who opted to self-describe their gender identity. The business sector only included respondents who identify as women and men.

See the survey data.


Fast facts


are leaders of color

People of color are underrepresented among Minnesota leaders across business, government, and nonprofit sectors.

1 in 4

leaders are women

While half of Minnesota's adults are women, only 24% of leaders across the state are women.


of government leaders are 65+

About 1 in 5 government leaders are older adults, compared to 1 in 10 business and nonprofit leaders.