The state of Oregon and the city of Portland, in recent years, have worked to increase diversity — both in the people they hire and in the contracts they award. While the results are questionable to many citizens, and much distance remains to be covered, some positive results been achieved.
So the city and state are taking a pause to celebrate the progress they've made toward a more diverse Pacific Northwest.
PDX Confidential, an organization of professionals of color from a range of industries, are marking Portland and Oregon's official Diversity Economic Empowerment Day (DEED) with "DEED: Setting the Table." A day of discussions and workshops culminating in a gala masquerade ball. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 12, at the Portland Hilton & Executive Tower, 921 S.W. Sixth Ave.
"DEED has been proclaimed an official day by the city of Portland … to celebrate the city and the state's commitment to diversity," said Cyreena Boston of PDX Confidential. "Not necessarily diversity in straight demographic terms, but diversity and how it has become an asset and a resource for our state."
Boston added that Oregon is earning a reputation as a model in terms of diversity in hiring and contracting. The TriMet Interstate MAX project, for example, in addition to finishing ahead of schedule and under budget, set a standard for contracting with women- and minority-owned businesses that is being emulated around the country.
She also cited Mayor Tom Potter's visionPDX project, which paints an inclusive picture of Portland's future, and the personnel choices of Gov. Ted Kulongoski — who has hired and appointed people of color to a number of high-ranking positions — as further examples of this trend.
"Oregon is setting a nationwide example, despite being a state with a large mainstream White population and a very small population of communities of color, for valuing the diversity it has," Boston said.
But not all of Portland's diversity news is good. The Portland Development Commission, for example, which wields enormous influence over large-scale urban renewal projects in the metro area, has been the target of a number of recent discrimination-related lawsuits. One suit alleges a pattern of discrimination at the agency. The Portland Fire Bureau, too, has been bedeviled by allegations of racial and gender bias.
Be that as it may, DEED isn't just an excuse to throw a party — the event will also focus on ways to keep Oregon's diversity progress going. The bulk of the day will be devoted to discussions and workshops featuring young professionals of color from the area. A roundtable talk will delve into the notion of diversity and what it means to a healthy society, and will also investigate the "generation gap" in perceptions of race between civil rights-era people of color and the twenty- and thirty-something professionals of today.
Three breakout workshops will look at what today's professionals of color want from their careers, strategies for marketing oneself in the modern marketplace and learning to build political capital. And attendees will be able to build bridges by meeting representatives from some of the region's top companies.
"Oregon's demographic pool is changing," Boston said. "There have always been professional minorities in the state, but in terms of how much they've been accepted and how visible they've been — it's been a challenge for them.
"But with more young professionals of color gravitating toward our state — either because there's companies here that bring them, or because of the affordable lifestyle here — the White mainstream is realizing that they have to meet this new need."
DEED also represents a chance for Oregon companies to empathize with professionals of color who are contemplating a move to the state, Boston said, something that can only make such a transition easier for all concerned.
"This a great opportunity for Oregon companies who are looking to learn a little more about what sort of professional pool there is in the state, and also to learn about the issues and challenges that these people face when confronted with the decision to bring their degrees and their experience here.
A cynical observer might discount DEED as another example of the establishment patting itself on the back for symbolic achievements that do little to address lingering economic differences between communities of color and the White mainstream. But that's not the case, Boston said.
"The city of Portland and the state of Oregon both value diversity and have proven that through their hiring and contracting practices," she said. "It's appropriate to celebrate that, and it's also a chance to advance the larger dialogue about diverse constituencies — how they impact small and large businesses around the state, how diverse workplaces enrich the professional experiences of everyone."
For more information on DEED, or to register, call Tiffany Brandreth, 503-797-7663.