The cold is easily one of the Twin Cities' biggest turnoffs. Many one-time Minnesotans have run for the warmer hills after one too many winters of subarctic temperatures.

But curiously enough, for the Twin Cities crop of professionals of color, the weeks of low sunlight and high snowdrifts are not the area's primary deterrent. A surveyed group said it's the lack of diversity and cultural awareness that is making them think about moving.

Diversity advocates say employers who are attentive and purposeful can build more inclusive offices and encourage their diverse employees to stay.

"Professionals of color are the future of the workforce, and if Minneapolis-St. Paul isn't a region where professionals of color think they can stay and thrive, we just won't be competitive," said Peter Frosch, vice president of strategic partnerships for regional nonprofit Greater MSP.

This year, Greater MSP along with more than 150 companies, nonprofits and other organizations launched "Make It. MSP." The goal is to retain and attract talent to the area, with a big priority placed on retaining professionals of color who, while being attracted to the Twin Cities at greater rates than whites, are also more likely to leave.

Greater MSP, with partners the Bush Foundation and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, surveyed about 1,200 professionals of color in September to find out why so many minorities were fleeing the Twin Cities.

Out of those surveyed, 16 percent said they were likely to leave in the next five years. However, when looking at those who are age 30 and under, the percentage increased to 22 percent, said Janine Sanders Jones, an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas who helped develop the survey and analyze the results.

Out of the younger group who said they would leave, the No. 1 reason was the lack of diversity or cultural awareness in the area.

"It did affirm the aspect that we have heard that the MSP region is kind of cliquish and that it's hard to make connections with people," Sanders Jones said.

Another theme in the results is that people in general did not feel like leadership at the organization where they worked was diverse.

"When you are at work, you are bringing your whole self. Therefore if the area in which you reside is lacking, it's going to impact that person that you bring to work," she said.

Here are some suggestions for employers that survey organizers say could help.

Increase diversity in senior leadership. Companies should be conscious and proactive in hiring people of diverse backgrounds into leadership positions who will then inspire other staffers. Part of diversifying leadership is widening the hiring pool.

"One of the challenges that people point out when they get here is that they look at their organizations and there are so few people of color in senior leadership roles that it doesn't really give them confidence that the company is committed to diversity or that their prospects are very good for rising to a senior level," said Duchesne Drew, Bush Foundation's community network vice president.

Increase diversity and inclusion efforts inside the office. Businesses could host companywide events on different cultures and foster an environment where everyone feels included regardless of their background. A review of holidays at the Bush Foundation found that most company-provided days off were Christian holidays. But for holidays in other religions, employees had to use a vacation day, Drew said. Now, the nonprofit has switched to having fewer set holidays and more floating PTO days that employees can use as they wish.

"Diversity in and of itself is not enough," Drew said. "Diversity gets people of color in the room. Inclusion is what makes people really part of the room and makes people want to stay."

Outline career paths and promotional opportunities. Employees, especially those of color, need to know that their companies are invested in them. Organizations should communicate potential career paths for employees and how they can succeed in their jobs. Providing mentors for young employees and work assignments so they can prove themselves and stretch their abilities are a couple ways to help.

Develop and promote vehicles that collect or share information of interest to people of color. Employers can try to share information that would be culturally relevant to their staff such as keeping them in the know when there are particular shows or authors in town that could be appealing. The group that organized the survey is working on ways to help connect professionals of color to places and events of interest.

Help people of color connect to one another and promote culturally relevant gathering places and events. Companies can encourage employees to attend events and join affinity associations where they can interact with other people of color. Companies also can help sponsor events themselves. MSP Mingle is an event for professionals of color to interact that is hosted by various company partners including Target, Ecolab and HealthPartners.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Twitter: @nicolenorfleet