Diversity Retention Project

Experiences at Work

The Workforce Diversity Retention Project identified two main areas that had the greatest impact on whether a professional of color decided to stay or leave our region: experiences at work and experiences in the community. This section focuses on the former.

The majority (57%) of those surveyed came to Oregon or southwest Washington because of a job. Survey participants represented a wide range of professional industries, with particular representation in government and non-profit. Most (81%) were employed full time. The organizational level ranged from chief executive officer to associates, with about 45 percent who said they supervised other employees.

Although some participants reported positive experiences working in Oregon and southwest Washington, the overall sentiment was negative. Primary concerns included:

  • Lack of diverse representation in the workforce, from leadership on down.
  • Being witnesses or recipients of chronic microaggressions or discrimination at work.
  • Lack of accountability among leaders.
  • Lack of support from the organization.
  • Tokenism.

Those who came to Oregon or southwest Washington from other areas were struck by the sense of isolation that manifested from the lack of racial diversity. Some said that they, as representatives of their specific race (i.e., tokens), were asked to engage in tasks to increase overall diversity at work, which was an undue burden.

There were also strong feelings that employees of color were outsiders within their organizations and had to work harder than their White colleagues to receive rewards, social influence or advancements.

Reported some form of discrimination

Experienced work-related strain

Agreed or strongly agreed their organization was supportive

Agreed or strongly agreed they were satisfied with their job



The central theme that connected these experiences was a perceived lack of accountability among leaders and the lack of support from the organization. A typical illustration of this perception involved a tangible organizational decision (e.g., work assignment, promotion, developmental opportunity) that negatively affected the participant. The participant believed the decision was based on implicit bias. Complaints about these situations were not resolved by managers or human resources staff.

These experiences, perceptions and attitudes often resulted in feelings of organizational injustice, alienation, disengagement from work, low job satisfaction, fatigue, and often withdrawal from the job and the region.



The Workforce Diversity Retention Project found a general consensus that participants perceived that most organizations engage in equity-focused initiatives for extrinsic reasons (e.g., legal reasons, to look good to outsiders), rather than a genuine desire to improve working conditions for people of color. This suggests the need for open and honest dialogue related to equity and race issues, more education for employers and organizational leaders, and rewriting and implementing policies and practices that are equitable and just.

Below are some solutions that address the issues of employer policies and practices, as well leadership accountability.


Download documents:
Employer solution sheet (pdf)  |  Leaders solution sheet (pdf)  |  Full solution sheets (pdf)



  1. The role of human resources is be an advocate for culture.
    As such HR professionals need to use a cultural lens to help employees of color feel more connected and able to bring their whole self to work. Build partnerships and help with connections to lessen feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  2. Create a model for a safe, confidential and supportive process to resolve formal and informal incidents or complaints that create barriers to equity and fairness in the workplace.
    Many existing structures place the employee who is raising the issue in a position of being retaliated against. An anti-retaliation policy is needed to convey policies to assure all employees know what they should and should not be doing. Complaints can be managed by a third party such as, which provides a space for employees to submit complaints anonymously. Include policies on how to repair and move forward for employees.
  3. Develop an equity lens policy as a tool to review all other policies.
    This will assure a fair and equitable workplace environment. For example: see websites for equity policies at Multnomah County or the Port of Portland.
  4. Avoid tokenism in the workplace.
    Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of equality. Do not burden employees of color through this practice.Do not burden employees of color.
  5. Fund, support and empower employee resource groups (ERG) to create networks to connect within the organization and in the community, as well as with other employer ERGs and professional organizations.
  6. Prioritize retention efforts.
    Invest in diversity recruiting with adequate practices and efforts to retain and develop talent for the long term.
  7. Adopt an equity certification for managers and leaders, provide resources and training for all employees. 
    Be active in an employee resource group in a significant way as part of the certification. Make diversity, equity, inclusion goals a part of performance reviews, interviews for advancement, etc.
  8. Use employee resource groups to communicate the challenges and opportunities that employees of color might experience when relocating from a more diverse community to Oregon and southwest Washington.
    Share the history of racism and “Portland nice” so it is not a surprise to newcomers.
  9. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are generally provided as an employee benefit.
    The Workforce Diversity Retention Project documented the need for more accessible, culturally-appropriate professional practitioners available to provide counseling, stress management, wellness support and resources for employees of color. Enhanced resources, in addition to the regular EAP model, could be a valuable resource.
  10. Implement a more robust off-boarding (exit interview) process to learn why employee resigned to better improve internal culture to retain talented employees of color and other diverse backgrounds.
    Engage employee resource groups to brainstorm retention strategies based upon the feedback of exit interviews. Consult a culturally appropriate professional practitioner.
  11. Evaluate and replace HR hiring practices that unconsciously discriminate against employees of color. 
    For example, include methods to evaluate the qualifications in job descriptions and require all hiring panel members to take unconscious bias training.
  12. Evaluate and replace HR operational practices using an equity policy lens that recognizes the differences in cultural perception of quality performance.
    Examples of operational practices to review include: job evaluations, improvement plans, rewards and bonuses, pay equity and pay transparency, and opportunities to develop career paths, such as stretch assignments.



  1. CEOs and boards play a critical role in driving diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the workplace.
    They must be accountable in creating an inclusive workplace.
  2. Tie the compensation of CEO and senior leaders to the adopted diversity, equity and inclusion metrics and goals.
    Consider implementing a “diversity kicker” as an incentive. The leadership and accountability must start at the top and be embraced throughout the organization. Use networks such as Partners in Diversity’s CEO Cohort and other leadership networks to learn and build an equity lens for member employers.
  3. Implement yearly employee surveys and assessment with the first assessment serving as a baseline.
    Create an inclusion index using data from assessments (this is similar to quality indexes). This index would include metrics in training, budgets, emotional intelligence, and other measurements that reflect the mindset, commitment, passion and authenticity of top leaders.
  4. Create a transparent process to advance employees of color into leadership roles.
    Create formal and informal mentor/coaching/sponsorship programs that recognize that diverse teams require different management skills. Front load all fellowships, internships, and scholarships to get a jump start on recruiting people of color.
  5. Understand and recognize that discrimination and racism exist and have negative impacts on the organization.
    It is essential for top leaders and elected officials to embrace their role in building an anti-racist culture.