Media Room

22nd Annual Diversity Conference
Sept. 29, 2015

Good morning and welcome.

I am excited to see so many of our state employees taking advantage of one of the largest diversity conferences in Oregon. Your participation today demonstrates your commitment to professional excellence, to strengthening the state’s workforce in order to provide quality service to all Oregonians.

Beyond providing opening remarks, as the head of state government should do at a major event like this, you may wonder what I – a white, middle class woman raised in suburbia – have to offer on the subject of diversity. 

It’s true that I carry with me every single day the privilege of white skin, and I don’t know what it’s like to experience racism.

I do know, however, what it is like to be terrified going to work every day, afraid that I might lose my job because someone discovered that my partner at the time was a woman.
And I know what it feels like to be treated differently and paid less – substantially less – than a man, even though I knew I was doing a better job.

And on the day I was sworn in as Oregon’s 38th Governor, I experienced what it’s like to have my more than 20 years of public service overshadowed by one sentence – “the nation’s first openly bisexual governor” – in virtually every headline around the world. 

Every one of us should have the right to live with dignity. Equity and inclusion are extremely important to me – in all aspects of society, but none more important than in the classroom and the workplace.

And as an employer, the State of Oregon has the opportunity to be a leader and role model, creating the kind of inclusive work place we want to see throughout our state.  But we have a lot of work to do. 

Other than achieving a greater diversity in the composition of the state’s volunteer boards and commissions, we have made very little progress, especially in positions in management and leadership.

This cannot stand. As your Governor, I am committed to fixing this. But I can’t do it alone. I need your help.

Each one of us can make a difference, no matter what role we play in state government. It’s really important for all of us to work together to develop an inclusive workplace that engages and supports employees. This will result in a workforce that better reflects Oregon’s changing demographics.

It’s been said that we are more a salad bowl than a melting pot; a place where a diverse bunch of ingredients complement each other without losing their individual identities.

I think we are at a critical moment: It is when we begin to look around the room and realize who is not here; who is not included in decision, which we begin to look outside of ourselves towards the contributions of others.

This is the starting point for valuing our differences. And never has understanding these differences been more important for our future.
Today’s conference will strengthen your knowledge, tools, and training that will help advance ‘best practices’ of diversity and inclusion in our respective workplaces.

Let’s join together in this important effort to create a government that is truly by the people and for the people – all of the people.  

Thank you.