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Affirmative Action in Portland

Do you think that affirmative action means that too many people of color and women end up in positions they are not qualified for?

Do you believe that affirmative action undermines the merit system of hiring and promotion?

Or are you wearing the equity lens?

– From the ABC's of Land Use

Are we breaking the cycle here in Portland?

Based on the composition of most groups I see here in downtown Portland through office windows, at lunch meetings, and at Board Committee, and Commission meetings, I would say not.


"The purpose of affirmative action is to establish fair access to employment opportunities to create a workforce that is an accurate reflection of the demographics of the qualified available workforce in the relevant job market."


Before Trump it was difficult to talk about and challenge the merit system. Men have been accepted, appointed, and/or hired for positions they were not necessarily qualified for based on friendship, son-of-alumnus status, geography, or the practice a mentor of mine explained to me when I was in my early twenties - hiring in one's image and likeness. Now it - and more - is laid out before us on the national stage. One right after the other in all branches of government.

And in the midst of it all, comes another challenge to affirmative action. This time it is to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the year I graduated from high school. It made it illegal to discriminate against students and college applicants on the basis of race or gender. They did it anyway, that year, to me, but it was followed by affirmative action programs that made it possible to challenge the system and still get hired or accepted. I did just that. More than once.

And, as mentioned above, proving bias in college admissions is quite difficult as it is with discrimination in the hiring process.

Now the privileged white men, on the national stage, are reversing policies on affirmative action in schools. Read the NY Times article, Trump Officials Reverse Obama’s Policy on Affirmative Action in Schools.

Start talking up affirmative action to surface and dispel the myths that have been used to discredit it in the workplace and in our schools.

I was silenced quite recently at a meeting, in the manner of "give others a turn-raise your hand-be a good girl" when the mere mention of the term, affirmative action, by a colleague was clearly considered taboo. We two women certainly learned our lesson that day, but not the one intended.

Here's what my colleague and I learned elsewhere, before Portland, working in major cities and for leading technology and financial companies:

Diversity is crucial to innovation. It is at the center of successful organizations, not a 'side'

or plug-in or add-on.

Let's take what is happening on the national stage to act locally and vocally to bring affirmative action forward on the agenda in our organizations and schools with renewed vigor and commitment.

Act up.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Portland's Caring Community, Old Town Chinatown, July 112 2018,

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