Think Oregon

All in for Diversity

Partners in Diversity seeks to draw professionals of color to the Portland area—and keep them there

You don’t have to live in Los Angeles or New York to know that American demographics are changing. According to Mari Watanabe, the executive director of Portland-based Partners in Diversity, it’s in everybody’s—and every company’s—best interest to keep up. 

“As the demographics of the country shift, businesses have an opportunity to meet the demands of a more diverse customer base,” Watanabe said. “Likewise, as a company’s customer base becomes more diverse, so should its workforce.”

Partners in Diversity is a nonprofit organization that helps companies recruit, support and retain professionals of color in both Oregon and Southwest Washington. For individuals of color, it’s also a lucrative lifeline to connect with others on both a personal and professional level.

On the business side, Partners in Diversity offers a robust agenda of educational forums and events for regional CEOs, executives and professionals. This year, it plans to launch the first-ever NW Equity Summit in Portland on September 29. The event, if Oregon’s reopening allows, will feature speakers such as Dr. Robin DiAngelo, bestselling author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, and Cynthia Marshall, the first African-American female CEO in the NBA. Attendees will also be able to participate in diversity-coaching seminars and workshops to discuss the challenges and successes they’ve encountered as they work to diversify their workplaces. 

On the worker’s side, Partners in Diversity is invested in helping professionals of color, especially those new to the area, connect with each other and find support. The organization’s signature Say Hey event is just one way they do this. “Think of Say Hey as a welcoming party for our newest professionals of color,” Watanabe said. “We introduce them to everyone and they can mingle with other professionals who look just like them. They can begin to find their community here. And maybe even a job.” 

Say Hey is held four times a year—next time likely in August—and it’s free and open to everyone. Last winter’s event at OMSI had more than 650 attendees and, according to Watanabe, the evening was a huge hit. “We couldn’t get people to leave,” she said. 

In addition to the quarterly Say Hey events, professionals can also attend Happy Hey Hours to stay in touch with their newfound community, and they can use Partners in Diversity’s job board to search for local employment opportunities. According to Watanabe, the overall goal is for individuals of color to find a job here—and a home. “Part of the challenge of retaining professionals of color, especially those who move here from out of state, lies in helping them find their peers so that they want to stay,” she said. “We want everyone to feel welcome here and see that Portland is a great place to live, work and play.”

Considering Partners in Diversity is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year, clearly it’s here to stay—and doing something right.  

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