Two months after arriving in town, Serilda Summers-McGee attended an event called “Say Hey!” designed to welcome minority professionals to Portland.
Say Hey! — produced by a group called Partners in Diversity — was the first time she’d seen a “critical mass of brown people” in Portland.
Since then, diversity has taken a more central role in several Portland business and educational organizations.
• The Portland Business Alliance brought Partners in Diversity under its charitable umbrella in late 2010.
• Portland State University President Wim Wiewel last fall created a vice-president level chief diversity officer position that reports directly to him. Jilma Meneses, an attorney by training, leads a six-member staff.
• United Way of the Columbia-Willamette hired Maria Rubio as its first director of diversity and inclusion in October.
Those organizations all say that supporting minorities in school, work and the community is critical to both the success of their organizations and minorities themselves.
Portland currently remains one of the whitest cities in the U.S., but that’s changing.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports 78 percent of the metro area’s nearly 2.2 million residents are white.
But one in five students in Oregon’s K-12 schools is Hispanic, according to the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs 2010 Annual Report. And 21 percent of babies born in Oregon in 2007 were born to Hispanic mothers, according to the Oregon Center for Health Statistics.
PSU knows those students are headed for its doors.
Until last fall, the responsibility for overseeing diversity efforts was vested in a part-time adviser to the president.
PSU spokesman Scott Gallagher said the hire of Meneses was a nod to the future.
“Over the next 12 years, the number of Hispanic students who are going to be ready for college is expanding almost exponentially,” Gallagher said. “We’re perfectly situated to enroll those students.”
Meneses said the chief diversity officer job at PSU is one of few such positions in Oregon that report to the top officer. The former Oregon Health & Science University executive jumped at the change to make a difference at Oregon’s largest public university.
“It told me (Wiewel) was serious about bringing change,” Meneses said.
The investment paid off on June 8 when PSU opened a Latino center on the third floor of Smith Hall. The center provides a place for Hispanic students to meet and study and resulted from a student-needs assessment.
At the Business Alliance, Partners in Diversity remains an independent organization with its own board. It will still hold quarterly “Say Hey!” events and training sessions for HR professionals. As an arm of the business alliance, it has greater access to the business community.
Summers-McGee, a former assistant dean at Reed College, became its first paid director in December.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to expand,” said Summers-McGee, who is building the membership roster and adding services, such as an executive-level job bank.
PBA President Sandra McDonough said Partners shares its mission of strengthening the city’s business climate. Partners helps businesses retain minority managers they work so hard to recruit.
Rubio said the local United Way chapter took its cue from United Way Worldwide, which emphasizes diversity around the globe.
Locally, United Way members and supporters didn’t really know what, if anything, it was doing to promote diversity, according to surveys.
United Way now works to communicate its message internally to employees. It also adopted new goals for its programs.
It will work on issues women and minorities face in the workplace, and challenges youth face dealing with everything from anti-Muslim sentiment to bullying gay and lesbian youth.