Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is hiring an outside consultant to host a diversity seminar—for white men only.
When Hales ran for mayor in 2012, he questioned whether Portland needed an Office of Equity and Human Rights—a $1.2 million department dedicated to ensuring fairness in race, gender and disability.
In less than two years, he’s received plenty of lessons on how much the city has to learn about diversity. (oh really?)
Last summer, Hales’ top police aide, Baruti Artharee, sexually harassed Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith at a dinner for Dante James, director of the city equity office. In January, an HIV-positive staffer in Hales’ office filed a civil-rights complaint against chief of staff Gail Shibley for violating his privacy.
And in April, the city’s former financial chief, Jack D. Graham, filed notice of his intent to sue the city for racial discrimination—describing a pervasive atmosphere of racism throughout Portland’s bureaucracy.
Hales now believes the city needs training beyond what the Office of Equity and Human Rights provides. The mayor and his male staffers will attend a 3½-day seminar in July that a city document says is “designed to help white male personnel learn how to react to issues in a white male-dominated culture.”
Hales spokesman Dana Haynes says the $56,000 training session was the mayor’s idea.
“This just in: Much of the big leadership in this city is white guys,” Haynes says. “And the change needs to start at the top.”
Hales has also mandated the attendance of white male command staff at the Portland Police Bureau—which has long been troubled by charges of discrimination.
The mayor’s office didn’t have to look far to find a contractor providing this specific service: The company, White Men as Full Diversity Partners, is based in Portland.
Haynes says the company provides a targeted seminar that the city’s own diversity trainers can’t supply.
“This training is unique,” Haynes says. “It is sui generis. Nobody else is doing this training, that we’ve been able to find.”
City officials will be taking part in a program described in White Men as Full Diversity Partners’ promotional materials as “innovative white male-only” sessions. A city contract says the seminar will “empower white males in leadership roles to be aware of their own culture and engage in critical dialogue on issues of inequity, ownership and responsibility for change.”
Bill Proudman, a Portland team-building coach, founded White Men as Full Diversity Partners in 1996. He says he was one of the first consultants to offer white male-only diversity workshops. He’s grown used to skepticism.
“It’s a joke—white men having a diversity session with other white men is an oxymoron,” he says. “All I can say is, my experience tells me: I have a race. It’s white. And it has an impact on things in my life. And I’m often the last person in the room to realize that.”
Proudman’s organization lists among its clients PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin and NASA.
He says white men need to understand their own culture to avoid hurting others.
“Because we’re the dominant group in the U.S., we’re like fish in water,” Proudman says. “We don’t notice the water. Looking at our culture allows us to see how we impact other groups.”
One observer questions whether Portland needs more equity workshops.
“Wow,” says Dave Lister, who has served on several city advisory committees and ran for a seat on the City Council in 2006. “Why do they need additional training for white males only when there’s hardly anything the city puts out that doesn’t talk about diversity?”
But Equity Foundation executive director Karol Collymore, who criticized Hales for his handling of Artharee’s remarks, says this is a positive step.
“Anything that helps people get to a place where they can have serious conversations,” she says, “is the right step to take.”
How does this make BHM feel?