Diversifying the Workforce Starts from the Top

Guest Author | Vicki Nakashima, Partners in Diversity Leadership Council

This week, NW Natural’s Board of Directors promoted Grant Yoshihara to the position of Senior Vice President of Operations, a position he has earned and well deserves. Grant is a 20+ year veteran of NW Natural and originally joined the company as a highly skilled engineer and an individual with a deep commitment to serving the community.

His leadership, inside and outside of NW Natural, demonstrates the need for Oregon companies to recognize the value of investing in recruiting talent that mirror the communities being served by their products or services. Grant Yoshihara’s community engagement has included serving as chair of the Partners in Diversity Leadership Council, Volunteers of America, and the Partners in Diversity Workforce Diversity Project.  NW Natural has generously supported his work in the community.

As it turns out, making this happen takes leadership from the very top of the organization, starting with the Board of Directors and CEO. In the past, many major employers relied on the H.R. department to lead the charge.

Over a decade ago, the CEOs of several major employers including NW Natural, PGE, Providence Health & Services, TriMet, PacifiCorp and others decided they needed to champion greater equity and inclusion as a key business issue.  Today, Partners in Diversity is a nonprofit coalition of over 115 major employers, working together to make Oregon and Southwest Washington a place that welcomes and embraces bringing greater racial and ethnic diversity to the leadership and professional workforce in the region.

NW Natural helped to lead and support the creation of this unique nonprofit business and community coalition known as “Partners in Diversity”. They share a vision that bringing together highly talented leaders with diverse perspectives and experiences will make a leadership team stronger and more financially competitive in a global economy.

Reaching the goals shared by PID member companies is no easy task. Portland and the Pacific Northwest continue to have a reputation for not being very diverse and some professionals of color, considering a relocation to the Northwest from other parts of the country with greater diversity have expressed concern that the lack of diversity may create unwanted challenges despite the attractive employment opportunities and overall quality of life.

Successful companies must attract the most talented, creative, well trained and educated workers. Partners in Diversity was founded to help meet that need. They host a quarterly event, “Say Hey” to welcome and help transition new professionals and leaders of color to Oregon and Southwest Washington. The events are hosted by over 115 Partners in Diversity members from major companies, nonprofits, and public sector employers.  The events bring together as many as 500 or more to create a “welcoming brigade” of member companies, community leaders and past Say Hey honorees. Each Say Hey event welcomes up to 50 newcomers relocating to the area. It has become the updated “Welcome Wagon” for new professionals of color. Honorees may include the new Consul General of Japan, a new company executive or a barber relocating to the area for a career opportunity.

NW Natural and the other PID members share the vision that by working together they will be able to find new strategies to help the region attract and retain a more diverse and talented workforce. It is a key business imperative, and the leadership must come from the leaders at the top of the organization. There is much more work to be accomplished.

Grant Yoshihara’s success at NW Natural is an example of the importance of having top corporate leaders recognizing and acting on diversity as a business imperative.

This article was originally published by the Portland Business Journal.
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