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Luncheon forum at the Sentinel opens up the conversation about diversity as a resource

Diversity is inviting someone to the dance, but inclusion is playing their song and asking them to dance with you. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - The diversity panel includes (from left to right) Shahriar Ahmed, Tina VanPhung, Larry Roper, Ozzie Conzalez, Ruth Miles, Michael Long and moderator Shannon Scott.

That's what moderator Shannon Scott said at the Business of Diversity luncheon forum that took place Monday at the Sentinel Hotel. It was hosted by language solutions firm Verbio and featured a diversity panel and Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson as the keynote speaker.

The emcee, Walter Robinson II, is the engagement and program specialist with the Joint Office of Homeless Services and a self-proclaimed "California-gonian."

"We hope that we all acknowledge and have enough experience in the room that we can start a conversation that will continue long after this lunch and give you all a better understanding of how diversity and inclusion can fit into our businesses, our diverse communities, our state and the world," Robinson welcomed the group before thanking the sponsors. "Like most spaces where you're invited to break bread, we'd like to bolster a safe spaces for all races, ethnicities and cultures, political identity affiliation, sexual orientation and class."

The panel moderator Shannon Scott, Iraq veteran, is a small business owner and LBGTQ activist. She also serves on the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and is the president of United Equity.

"I grew up on a ranch in Montana. It may seem unlikely that someone who grew up on a ranch and spent twelve years in the military would now be standing on the stage talking here today, but here I am," Scott said. "A few years later, I'm truly struggling with gender identity. The feelings of discomfort and dishonesty that come with gender discrepancy are becoming to be unbearable. I did what any little boy in Montana does and I took those feelings and I stuffed them deep down inside me and I joined the military."

She had earned two medals and served on an honor guard as a leader in her field and expert in the group. They say she bled blue.

"And I was forced out because I am a transgender woman," Scott said. "That day the armed forces lost a highly skilled service member with exemplary service history."

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Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Vietnam veteran with eight daughters and one son, greeted the crowd in a number of languages.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - Secretary of State Dennis Richardson spoke as the keynote at the luncheon.

"This is an opportunity for us to gather together and realize just how Oregonians different in linguistic, in geographic and in population diversity, can all come together and appreciate one another, be honest with where we're from, and I believe this cultural diversity is one of the greatest resource that our state has," Richardson said. "Such diversity is good for the businesses and good for the people."

He recalled the Chinese phrase Guanxi he picked up while traveling there, which means "relationships before business."

"Part of what we're trying to accomplish today is to bring people together so that you can start some additional relationships, and network," Richardson said.

The six panelists included Michael Long, Ruth Miles, Ozzie Gonzalez, Larry Roper, Tina VanPhung and Shahriar Ahmed. Scott asked the panelists to share a little bit of their experience in the communities they represent, and offer ideas about what work we as a community could do to bring diversity and inclusion to the surface.

Michael Long, an LGBTQ activist, is the co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign Steering Committee, executive director of nonprofit Clubfounder, and is an attorney at Portland-based Long Law.

"I came out as a 37-year-old man ... I knew I was gay when I was 5 or 6," Long said. "All during that time (in law school) I knew that my career in politics would never happen all because I'm a gay man. I knew in this world, I would not be allowed to be truly openly who I was, who I am."

As part of the process when he came out in 2000, he realized his political voice was allotted to queer rights "...to really work at the level to support and encourage people to acknowledge LGBTQ people are worthy of protection and equality," Long said.

Larry Roper is a professor and the interim director in the School of Language, Culture and Society at Oregon State University. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - Pamplin Media Group president Mark Garber networks with Westview High students from nonprofit Stem4Girls, whose E-Cybermission team is a 2017 national finalist.

"My biggest issue with diversity over time in organizations over time is the lack of diversity in executives. I feel like I have only once in my career — my over 48-year career — had a supervisor who was non-white," Roper said. "So the question I would ask you is if you are a mentor in a relationship with someone you work with, ask yourself what conversation would I have to have with them that will continue their growth if it was guaranteed to turn out well?"

Ozzie Gonzalez is the Director Of Diversity and Social Sustainability at Howard S. Wright. He grew up as a first-generation hyphen-American, and was made to feel he didn't belong in any country. His takeaway from that was he is the ultimate decision-maker of where to call his home and where to put down roots.

"As an ecologist, I began to learn about diversity as a healthy ecosystem. When we study that, we look at diversity as the No. 1 indicator of health," Gonzalez said. "When there's lack of diversity in the system, we have a vulnerability to threats. And any threats that comes into that system is going to have a much bigger impact. Build on that notion and realize that unique ecosystems are also unique as investment portfolios. Diversity is one of the most fundamental values that exists."

By Jules Rogers
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