Parna Mehrbani Presents the Case for a Diverse Workforce

Partner Parna Mehrbani was the closing speaker at Tonkon Torp’s Annual Labor & Employment Event, held virtually on June 9. Parna focused her talk on recommendations for what employers can do to encourage inclusiveness and retain employees of color. Parna is deeply engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Tonkon Torp, in the legal community, and in the broader business community. The physical reopening of workplaces is a significant milestone for our community. While reopening efforts are largely focused on COVID-19 issues, employees of color will also be coming back to work after a year of intense national focus on issues of racial equality and growing momentum in the business community to commit to creating equitable workplaces. As Parna points out, we have a unique opportunity to recover, rebuild, and reimagine what a workforce can look like in this post-pandemic reality.

While presenting the business case for diversity, Parna stressed that economics should not be the sole reason to invest in workers of color. The simple fact is that a more diverse, engaged workforce that is valued and allowed to be heard, brings vital new perspectives and approaches to business.

Parna shared the results of the landmark Workforce Diversity Retention Project study completed by Partners in Diversity (PID). The study was designed to: find out why professionals of color are leaving Oregon and Southwest Washington; improve local retention strategies; create more equitable outcomes for employees of color; and support a more diverse, connected, and inclusive community. Parna is Chair of the PID Leadership Council. Her report on the results of the study was sobering and challenging. Results clearly indicate that professionals of color experience high rates of discrimination and tokenism, feel they have to work harder for the same opportunities, and find fewer cultural connections in the community.

Parna called out the fact that while experiences of micro aggressions and other discrimination may not rise to the level of actionable harassment, they do intensely affect day-to-day life and morale. One portion of the report focuses on “Portland nice,” a common dynamic experienced by people of color who move to the area only to find that Portland’s veneer of progressivism and liberalism does not align with actions taken by businesses or community members. The end result is that people of color often leave the region and Portland loses a valuable segment of its workforce and culture.

Parna concluded her talk with a review of several of the specific, actionable solutions offered in the report that will help employers prioritize retention efforts for professionals of color. These include improved policies and practices, community support and networking, accountability for leaders, and individual support and advocacy. The Partners in Diversity website provides the full report, and additional solutions.

Parna is Co-Chair of Tonkon Torp’s Information Privacy & Security Practice Group and a partner in its Intellectual Property Practice Group. Her practice is focused on intellectual property, trademark and copyright registration, licensing, and enforcement, and advising on intellectual property portfolios for local, national, and international companies. She also advises businesses on the management and security of personal data and the laws that regulate the collection, use, and protection of personal data.

Learn more about other topics from the 2021 Annual Labor & Employment Event:
Reopening Strategies & Considerations
OSHA Updates
Mandatory Vaccination Policies
Telecommuting and Flexible Work Schedules
Complying with the Workplace Fairness Act
Updates to Labor Law Under the Biden Administration
Legislative Update

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