Highlights from our March B Learning Lunch


March B Learning Lunch with B Local PDX

March 28, 2019 at Ecotrust

“March Into Equity” with Court Morse, Equity & Inclusion Manager, Prosper Portland

Download a pdf of the presentation: March Into Equity: The Nuts and Bolts or Organizational Culture Change.

Court Morse has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years. Their work as an equity practitioner has focussed on Immigrant Rights, Refugee Rights, Racial Justice, LGBTQ Justice, Gender Justice, Environmental Justice, and Education Reform. They work in the community as a consultant, coach, mentor and community activist and are currently working as the Equity & Inclusion Program Manager for Prosper Portland.


There is a common stereotype that Portland lacks diversity, but did you know that 47% of 15-19 year olds in Portland identify a person of color, and 1 in 5 Portlanders are foriegn born? Portland is a city within a state centered in white supremacy and was built as a utopia for white folks. And while many cities are much more diverse, and dynamics of whiteness are everywhere in Portland, we want to also honor the resilient and vibrant communities of color here.  

There are different reasons that people choose to focus on equity and inclusion work at their companies: personal, professional, or moral reasons. It’s important to always talk about the many reasons. Often we tend to make a business case when most people are driven by moral reasons to want to make the word more inclusive and serving towards communities of color. Don’t be shy in promoting the many reasons to engage in equity work.

Collectively we have a lot of power. You are just one out of the 32,000 businesses in Portland- imagine what kind of change can happen collectively! Portland Means Progress is an initiative by Prosper Portland that “provides connections for  businesses to hire local underrepresented students, purchase from businesses owned by people of color and create diverse and vibrant workforce and company cultures.” Learn more about Portland Means Progress here.

Additional Reasons: Employee turnover drops 57% for individuals that are deeply connected to company giving and volunteering efforts. There is a 30% increase of revenue generated per employee at companies with inclusive talent practices. White Portlanders tend to earn 39% more than Portlanders of color.


There are various methods and schools of thought around organizational culture change. Equity practitioners and organizational culture change work means talking about a large list of topics and norming the conversation. Often times these conversations were forbidden in dominant workplace culture or seen as political. While these conversations can be tricky and should involve an experienced facilitator they are often the context of our world and workplace people feel like they can’t express. We want employees and customers than can bring their full selves and identities to work. In order to show you how impactful these conversations can be, here are just two quick examples of what we might talk about it. Take a look at the iceberg concept of culture.

The iceberg concept of culture showing the things that are apparent or can be seen on top/above the water, and those that are less apparent below the surface.

Think about what elements of culture impact our approach at work. It comes up in all aspects- some are we are more aware of and others we rarely think about. It’s important to have cultural curiosity in order to start your culture change journey.

Another topic you can expect is to dive deeper into the hidden and unspoken layers of oppression. There are four forms for example of racism: Individual, Cultural, Institutional, and Structural. A focus must be placed on not stopping at just the interpersonal concepts of oppression and looking at the policies, procedures and infrastructure that allows racism to thrive.


There are benefits and risks surrounding this work. Some of the many benefits include:

  • Enhanced strategic results

  • Increased skills and awareness for staff, members, volunteers that contribute to a better education climate and national movement to dismantle oppressions

  • Increased trust for underrepresented communities in working with community partners and businesses

  • Increased opportunity to collaborate with partners that also want to dismantle oppression

  • Increased opportunity to recruit and work with diverse staff, donors, investors and volunteers

  • Increased opportunity to receive grants, investments, and donor funding for those committed to DEI work

  • Increased meaning of participation for staff, volunteers, and donors committed to DEI work

  • Increased comradery and trust building for staff creating a better workplace culture

Here are some of the risks of DEI:

  • Not having enough DEI trained staff to manage emotions and conflicts that arise when problematic biases are surfaced and identified

  • When DEI work is bottle-necked at the top and employees feel frustrated that they cannot engage in this work

  • A feeling that certain positions cannot contribute to DEI work due to the nature of their role

  • Deep-rooted fear and refusal to examine personal bias leading to feeling targeted at work / (expectations for staff who may not have been hired under that approach)

  • Not enough DEI trained staff or investment in resources that leads to the burden of DEI work placed on a few staff positions

  • A surface level commitment only to DEI which leads to avoidance of tough decisions to sacrifice organizational privilege in order to do the right thing based on an equity approach

There can be emotions surrounding this work, be prepared. Know that equity skills take years to develop and be thoughtful when doing this work. It’s important to find the right path: resources, equity practitioner, equity team, programs, and trainings.


Here is a scale of the types of work your organization can do. These are just examples and ideas of how to scale up the work, but each business will have different resources, timing, and personalized equity journey.

Scale of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion work that an organization can do.

Remember to start somewhere and do SOMETHING! Find your equity practitioner and fundraise. Create safety rails for POC- don’t assume that individuals who have lived experience will want to engage in this work. Create space for them to participate or opt out. Engage your board and staff. Create a shared language for better interpersonal communication. Be ready to learn. Celebrate but never finish. Thank you for your interest and work in being a part of the racial justice efforts that this world needs!