Image: Courtesy Here to Stay
Zanele Mutepfa-Rhone—founder of the new Here to Stay series focused on panel discussions with diverse women at the top of their fields—says the experience of being invited to have a seat at the table as an eight-year-old made her want to do the same for others. Literally.
Mutepfa-Rhone recalls the experience that put her on a leadership path after her mother took over the family’s transportation business in Zimbabwe following her father's death: “I went downstairs to this huge oak table with little bags of money. It was all men and my mom at the head of the table. She dumped them out and said, ‘We’re going to sit here and wait for you to count the money because I don’t want you to ever believe there is something you can’t do.’ That image has been instilled in my mind. How can I create more opportunities for me to be at that table?”
She found a lot of ways. Following her mother's passing, Mutepfa-Rhone was adopted by a family in Portland, where she became the head of the Black Student Union at Lincoln High. While at Portland State University, she started Empowering Sisterhood. Most recently? Mutepfa-Rhone was the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Adidas North America. But last August, she decided to break from Adidas to focus on freelance diversity consulting and building Here to Stay.
The speaker series—produced by Mutepfa-Rhone and a coalition team she consults with that ranges from representatives at Portland Public Schools to digital agencies who see gaps in the marketplace—held its first event in April to an enthusiastic crowd. The free event had flowing complimentary cocktails, towers of artistic appetizers, and rows of chairs inside the impressive Expensify Bank venue. They’d hoped to fill two-thirds of the venue, but instead sold out with another sixty on the waitlist. We all listened to Mutepfa-Rhone interview women like Akadi chef/owner Fatou Outtara and Little Roots PDX plant shop owner Tracie Wong about their careers and finding commonalities, with a room of women nodding along.
“This is for everyone. This is for white women, for black women, for Asian women, it’s for everyone. Now, make no mistake, everyone involved in this knows what their privileges are, where they are marginalized, and where their opportunities are. So for white women that are part of Here to Stay, it’s about saying, ‘I know the privilege I bring to the table. I am going to acknowledge it, not apologize for it, and I am going to use it for good to bring in my black and brown sisters.'” Mutepfa-Rhone talks about how she wants all women to be present for the conversation series and how acknowledging intersectionality is important in moving the project forward. “And for black woman to say 'I am going to break bread with my white and brown sisters, and share my experiences and wisdom through that.' But it needs to be a cycle where we’re all listening to each other and helping each other. Seeing the gap areas and finding ways to fill them.”
On Thursday, June 20, the second Here to Stay series takes over Expensify once again. This time with Tia Coachman (Laundry Service), Helene Jackson (Jackson Shine Co.) and Faith J. Wilson (WO:KE PDX). Mutepfa-Rhone says the eventual goal is to get corporate sponsors to hire her team to come to their cities and put on the Here to Stay series in their communities, bringing out voices of women and creating space for them. That’s on top of producing events in Portland with some “surprises and delights” as far as celebrity guests, giveaways, and talks.
Big goals, but ones that come naturally to her. “The work of diversity inclusion doesn’t live just in the sportswear industry. It’s something needed in tech, in academia…and my superpower is connecting with people from all walks of life.”
6:00 p.m. Thursday, June 20, Expensify Bank