Hillsboro hires first diversity, equity and inclusion leader
Hillsboro has hired its first-ever diversity, equity and inclusion manager.
In his new role, Steve Lee will evaluate policies and programs to make sure they don't exclude people, foster the diversity of the municipal workforce, and ensure staff have the knowledge and skills to advance racial equity in their work.
Lee most recently worked as the affirmative action manager in Gov. Kate Brown's office, according to a Q&A posted on the Hillsboro city website announcing his hiring Monday, July 19.
With an education background in urban and regional planning, he has more than 30 years of experience in public policy and racial equity work, officials said.
Lee's hiring comes after the Hillsboro City Council adopted an equity statement in December 2019, committing the city to removing structural and cultural barriers within the city to equal outcomes for all groups.
"Public and private institutions have taken actions, intentionally or unintentionally, that burden some people and benefit others," Lee said when asked why it's important for the city to be mindful of the impact of decisions on marginalized groups. "Collectively, these actions are the foundation of structural racism. They are in the DNA of our society."
Lee has personal experience with disparities in how governments treat different groups.
"Oregon, for me, was a tough place to grow up Black," he said. "I witnessed the city government forcibly remove my grandparents from their home in the interest of urban renewal. Later, I was forced to leave my neighborhood school to attend an overwhelmingly white school. It was a hostile and unwelcoming environment."
The actions were done with little consideration for the impacts they would have, Lee said.
He added that he was a senior in college before he had a teacher who was not white, and he never worked for a public or private institution led by a person of color until he left Oregon.
"In fact, most often, I was the only or one of the few people of color in the organization," Lee said. "This left me with very few people of color to act as role models, mentors, and advocates, which are especially important for young people.
"The lesson from those experiences was that participation in decision-making matters," he continued.
Beginning his career in transportation policy through a committee at the Oregon State Legislature in the mid-1980s, Lee said he learned how transportation choices and land-use decisions have a profound impact on the ability of people and places to prosper.
But he realized the process of making such decisions was not collaborative with communities, he said.
"What I'd like to see the city do more of is talk to communities before they make decisions and decide on policies, programs, investments, and most important, on decision-making," Lee said in a video message.
It's important for the city to focus on making sure outreach about decisions is equitable, he said.
"What does that mean?" Lee asked. "It means getting people the right kind of information, information that they need, getting the right kind of processes organized so that people can participate how they want to, giving people the opportunity to participate and not leaving folks out."
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