Best Places to Work

Diversity in the Workplace: Who Is Doing It Right?

For Meyer Memorial Trust, diversity means more than just demographics.

By Tiara Darnell December 31, 2019 Published in the January 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Jack Dylan

In 2020, diversity is more than a buzzword. It’s big business.

Every year US employers spend billions on equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts, lumped under the spreadsheet-friendly acronym EDI, according to Pamela Newkirk, a professor of journalism at New York University and author of Diversity, Inc.; The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business. A more diverse workplace brings valuable new perspectives and, research shows, ultimately helps a company’s bottom line.

But all that money doesn’t mean much if more employees of color don’t get hired in the first place—or don’t wind up feeling good enough about their new gig to stick around. Employees of color still occupy only about a quarter of management and HR positions, the types of roles that are crucial for making a workplace inclusive.

One big-name Portland-area nonprofit has been plugging away at EDI big-time for the past five years, in search of a better way forward. (In the US nonprofit world, diversity statistics are notoriously even more dismal: 92 percent of executive directors are white.) The Meyer Memorial Trust, a 37-year-old philanthropic organization with 37 employees established in Portland by Fred G. Meyer—yes, that Fred Meyer—has been experimenting with small steps in job recruitment that make a big difference.

Be intentional about language when posting job descriptions, suggests Meyer’s HR director, Crystal Jackson. Post job listings to as many different online boards as you can, instead of just the same-old, same-old. And use your people—when staff and partners post openings on their own social networks, from Facebook to TikTok, the personal touch can really pay off.

Of course, increasing the numbers of diverse employees is only half the battle. Making your work environment welcoming and inclusive so that they stay and thrive is just as important, Jackson says. (In a 2017 blog post, she wrote: “If the goal of your diversity recruiting efforts is to beam proudly and say, ‘Look at all of the different-looking faces in our organization,’ then that’s the only goal you’ll achieve.)

At Meyer Memorial Trust, more than half the employees are people of color and two-thirds are women. That’s reflected at the very top—a full 80 percent of its board members are people of color. In 2018 the nonprofit hired a black woman, Michelle J. DePass, a former New School dean who had served in the Obama administration, as its new CEO, only the third in its 37-year history.

Who you see is a reflection of your values” says Jackson. “Yes, we welcome all [candidates], but ...  how does it say we welcome all? If you’re not explicit with people they’ll wonder if we truly mean that.”

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