Guest post: TechTown Portland experiment is working

[Editor: This is a guest post from Jared Wiener, the software industry liaison for Prosper Portland (the organization formerly known as the Portland Development Commission (PDC)). As part of his role, he has helped manage the TechTown Portland program which includes the Diversity Pledge. Here, he provides an update on the progress with that program.]

The takeaway from recent coverage in The Oregonian and Portland Business Journal of the second TechTown Portland Demographic Survey is clear: progress is slower than any of us would like. We fully acknowledge that we have much, much more to do and improve upon. At the same time we don’t want to miss the fundamental point that separates Portland Tech from other communities across the country: progress is occurring.

The progress to date was far from a given when we began this experiment two years ago. Many thought it would simply be a marketing campaign without actually changing deep-seated industry dynamics. We have remained fairly quiet about our progress, which may have contributed to an impression of an initiative that sounded good but wouldn’t lead to much.

In fact, we have spent the past two years working together and within our organizations on ways to make good on the diversity pledge. We shared the survey results last year and were encouraged by the data but recognized we needed more information to know if this approach was working. Today, with multiple years of data and more than 2,700 responses, we have demonstrated that TechTown is working.

techtown-portland-diversity-metrics-2017

We have turned a collective public commitment into a full-fledged movement with programming and initiatives to create tangible outcomes. Here are some of the things we’ve done together so far:

  • Increased hiring rates for underrepresented people of color and women
  • Built stronger partnerships that are mutually beneficial throughout the Portland community
  • Provided training sessions for more than 400 attendees to become better educated so we can take more effective actions
  • Formed a decision-making body to accelerate collective action
  • Launched a redesigned website that makes the diversity pledge the core component
  • Tracked our progress on demographic makeup and company culture with 70% response rate on the survey in both years

While this work is considerable in scope, scale and impact, perhaps its greatest value thus far is that it has created conditions for change. Individual companies have bought into this experiment and are holding true to their commitments. Ten CEOs sat around a table in 2015 and asked if anything like this had been done, and when they found out it hadn’t they decided we’d be the first tech community to do it and do it right. Their passionate employees have taken on extra work, given up evenings and weekends to become better educated, and gotten to know others who share their passion for diversity. Company leaders have continuously emphasized the importance of this work to their staffs and have given staff the space to develop processes.

We don’t yet have a fully equitable and inclusive Portland Tech community; progress is slower than we’d like, we still have a long way to go and things to figure out. But, we’re on the road and heading in the right direction.

These companies, the supporting organizations and the broader tech community will help us go further in the months and years ahead. If you are part of this community (or want to be) and want to do more to advance this social and business imperative drop us a line. You can connect with us on the website or email us directly. We could use your help to better realize the dream of Portland Tech being a diverse, inclusive and welcoming tech community where all employees feel they belong.

More info

TechTown is a collaboration among six support organizations including Prosper Portland and 21 tech companies. These 21 companies employ more than 2,100 people in Portland, and if TechTown were a single company it would be the fourth largest non-healthcare private employer in the city.

Jared Wiener is the software industry liaison for the software and tech industry for Prosper Portland. He also currently manages the Business and Industry Team which leads the City’s efforts in our traded sector industry sectors, which drive the job growth in our economy.

As the City’s economic development agency, Prosper Portland is committed to building an equitable economy.

 

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