e059. Exposure & Experience with Evan T. Green

Evan T. Green (he/him) is the Executive Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion of Portland State University School of Business. Their mission is to create positive social, ecological, and economic impact through inclusive, transformative learning and meaningful research. Portland State University School of Business employs 150 people.

Including You Interview with Evan T. Green

Full Interview Transcript

Voiceover Announcer:

This is Including You, the new series from Lead at Any Level. Including You features stories from chief diversity officers and other executives who are creating inclusive cultures in their organizations. Our goal is to show what’s working in companies just like yours to give you the tools you need to keep pushing for progress in your own workplace. We want to create belonging and opportunity for everyone including you. And now here’s your host, Amy C. Waninger.

Amy C. Waninger:

Welcome back to Including You. I’m your host Amy C. Waninger, the Inclusion Catalyst. My guest today is Evan T. Green. He is the Executive Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, or abbreviated the ED JEDI, of Portland State University School of Business. Their mission is to create positive social, ecological, and economic impact through inclusive, transformative learning and meaningful research. Portland State University School of Business employs about 150 people. Evan, welcome to the show.

Evan T. Green:

Thank you, Amy. Pleasure to be here.

Amy C. Waninger:

I’m so glad to talk to you, and I love your title of ED JEDI. I know it’s a very brief acronym for a very long title, but I wanted to ask you, why is putting a focus on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion such a priority for the School of Business at Portland State University?

Evan T. Green:

I think it’s a great question. This role was created about a year and a half to two years ago, just towards the end of COVID. Quite frankly, though, it was a growing out of many conversations around how do we support our underrepresented students within the School of Business, while also supporting faculty and staff in the School of Business as well, with also a lens around recruitment and diversifying.

The demographics, quite frankly, in the City of Portland and the State of Oregon are really skewed towards majority populations, while very small numbers of Black Americans, Latinx folks, folks from other marginalized backgrounds. Our School of Business is unique in that it is one of the few urban institutions in the State of Oregon and we’re one of two I’d say large institutions in the City of Portland. That just basically means that the people who live in this community are relying on Portland State to get an education.

And just as things have worked out over the years, we’ve started to really become a majority/minority School of Business and understanding that our population has shifted. There was an understanding at this time or at this point that we needed to be able to make sure we positioned ourselves to support our students and faculty and staff in the best way that we could. We did a strategic plan about five years ago. And as part of that strategic plan, we had conversations about transforming the business community in Portland and really doing business differently.

For us, part of doing business differently is looking at ethnicity, looking at inclusion, looking at diversity and equity really from lenses where we understand that we’re going to graduate students into a business world that may or may not have started to really dealt with or grappled with some of these topics in the fallout, we’ll say, of the BLM spring. I think people really started to realize that just paying lip service to a thing isn’t enough and that we really need to have some concrete activities and policies and practices that are supporting marginalized folks.

This position really grew out of that. I think it’s been an exciting opportunity to really I think be a leader in the space and a leader and really I think training a different type of business student. I think our students are gritty. I know many of them come from first generation backgrounds and really the hopes of families are on the shoulders of many of our students. Quite frankly, not all of them are ready for that. Being in an environment like this can be really challenging and the proper supports are in place.

I think this role is really about creating those proper supports and nurturing everyone in the environment to be their best version of themselves and be successful for that matter.

Amy C. Waninger:

Now, is your role focused more on student outreach to prospective students, to helping the students once they’re in the school, or to working with community partners around the school? Or is it a combination thereof?

Evan T. Green:

I would say it’s a combination thereof. But if I were to create a hierarchy for the things you mentioned, I would say, first and foremost, the role is really looking at policies and how those policies impact the environment and really looking at how do we change policies, how do we train and educate our faculty on a way to be more inclusive in the classroom, which I think residually benefits our students and our student experience. I think really the policy is a major part of it.

Some of the areas or offices that I’m managing have a lens that’s really directly focused on student success and student development. Again, I think everything kind of weaves together. Also, understanding that just we are not exclusive of our community. I think just the way Portland is in general is that there’s a shared belief that we all have a role to play on impacting and changing this community. Community partners, community stakeholders are really important. Not to mention we’re in a business school and quite frankly, networking is still important.

I think having a degree, having experiences are huge, but still a lot of business gets done word of mouth and really being able to have a network and having that ability to learn about opportunities sometimes before the larger population can be enormous, quite honestly. I would say that there’s a lot of value for our community stakeholders as well, and especially from the lens of how do we support you with our talented folks to either, if you’re an entrepreneur, how do we help you to come with marketing for your business?

If you’re a large corporate entity, how do we train a student and graduate them into a job with you and have them be able to hit the ground running and really have value for your organization? A lot of times just by virtue of my role, I’m in a lot of conversations with larger corporate entities that are like, hey, we really want to diversify our staff. We want to diversify the folks that we’re bringing in.

They become an ally and a partner with us as long as we feel good about the business that they’re doing and really helping to ensure that our students are prepared to step into those types of roles, which again, I think residually benefits the City of Portland and helps to, I think, truly diversify Portland and diversify businesses of Portland.

Amy C. Waninger:

When you think about the landscape of businesses in Portland, and I don’t want to get you in any trouble here, but do you feel like they’re ready for the students that you’re turning out, they’re ready for this, and I don’t just mean your students, but this next generation of workforce? Because the expectations are changing among younger workers for what they want in the workplace, for how they expect to work and interact and do business, not just as employees, but as consumers.

To me, right from the outside, it seems like there’s a lot of push and pull between the expectations of young people, young professionals or emerging professionals and the old ways of doing business. There seems to be some tension there. Are you feeling that where you sit?

Evan T. Green:

Yeah. I’m not going to use the word tension. I’m going to say that it’s a maturation process and folks are on different ends of the spectrum or at different points on their journey, we’ll say. I will tell you that we have a strong handful of organizations that have been, I think, trendsetters and trailblazers in the space and are really looking for what our students are bringing to the table and, to your point, the new young person, for lack of a better word, or the new kind of student.

I think because of technology, because of access to information, there are, again to your point, just wants that they have. I think stereotypically you would say, “Oh, people just want to be paid really well. It’s all about pay.” I’d say no. I think this generation of young professionals really want to be in places and spaces that I think speak to them on a more personal level, speak to their goals, speak to the things that they’re passionate about. Quite frankly, we are now having conversations with students about how do you interview and employer?

Even in your interview process, how do you ask certain questions to make sure that this is the type of environment you want to work in? I mean, we, in Portland, I think it’s a progressive state in a lot of ways. We have students that are concerned about will there be gender-neutral bathrooms in your organization? What are your thoughts around that? Quite frankly, the way the business responds could have a significant impact on whether or not that student wants to work there.

Our students are becoming more savvy about, especially our marginalized students, am I just a token hire? Am I at a point in my career where I’m okay with being a token hire just so I can get some experience? Or is this a non-negotiable for me that I don’t want to be in an environment where I’m tokenized? I don’t want to be in an environment where you don’t have ERGs that can support me. I don’t want to be in an environment where if I’m trans, I can’t show up and wear what I think I want to wear without being made fun of, belittled, or singled out.

Again, I think people are in different places on the journey. I do think that part of even the conversations I have with an employer, if an employer comes to me and says, “Hey, you really are looking to diversify,” a lot of my questions are like, where are you at now? What are your ideas? Are you just thinking that this is going to be your silver bullet and change things, or do you have a plan around how you’re going to support these students when they get in?

If there is no plan, we will respectfully say, “It sounds like you have some more work to do. We’d love to be available for you at a point when you’ve done some of the work, but we just in good faith are not willing to prop you up as an employer to our students if we’re not confident that our students are going to be safe and taken care of in that space.” Now, clearly, if the student finds the organization on their own and whatever, that’s on them.

But when you’re coming to us and specifically asking for our students, we’re trying to do our due diligence to make sure that you’re a place that our students feel comfortable in. Because at the end of the day, they’re going to come back to me and be like, “You told me to go work for so and so.” No, I didn’t tell you, but I did provide the opportunity. You’re right, they’re not… But what I will say though is too some of the… Let me give an example of something good.

We had some local business folks or CEOs of some creative spaces here that were like, “Hey, we’ve been struggling to diversify our employees.” I was like, I believe that there are diverse candidates in Portland that we can use. And then the other ones, “No, I don’t think there is.” I’m visualizing this back and forth. But the end result was, let’s try it. They created something called the Emerging Leaders Internship Program, which is specifically for underrepresented and BIPOC folks.

Part of the deal is employers decide to opt in as a site for the summer, and then there’s a whole hiring process and whatnot and review and interview process. But in the end, students get an opportunity to work for an organization that quite frankly is providing space for them to get experience. Whereas a lot of our students’ biggest issue with finding a job is you don’t really get a chance to get experience, because everyone’s, “Oh, we can’t hire you. You don’t have enough experience. You don’t have this. You don’t have that.”

But with this group, they really do a great job of vetting students, identifying qualified students, and then finding placements for them. I think that’s really helped to really, I think, illustrate to the business community in Portland that you have talented folks, you just need to give them a shot and have spaces where they can thrive and excel. I think the multiplier effect of that has been students really being able to have experience now upon graduation that will allow them to get jobs that they’re looking for.

Amy C. Waninger:

You said so much in there that’s really important. I just want to call a couple things out because I think what you said is really relevant to employers right now. One of the first things that I picked up on is a lot of employers say, “We want to recruit more diverse talent,” but they aren’t paying attention to the diverse talent that’s already within their organization. They’re not putting the money into retention.

One of the mistakes I see companies making is they think they can out recruit a bad culture, and it’s just not possible. That’s like taking all of your money and all of your profits and just putting them in a paper shredder day after day. Because if you can’t retain people, don’t bring them in. That’s just simple mathematics.

Evan T. Green:

It feels simple, but I think people… It’s because, again, it’s not genuine. It’s about ticking a box. It’s about we need 20 BIPOC people, so let’s just get 20 people, not even thinking about what those 20 people look like or how they identify with the thing, what are the wants that they need. It’s because I think that’s like the old computer thing, garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t have a good model to begin with, you’re not going to get the ultimate result that you want, which is, I think, systemic change.

Amy C. Waninger:

I think this notion of it’s the chicken and the egg problem of how do I get experience without a job? How do I get a job without experience? Having something that’s happening while these young people are in school, and I assume you have some non-traditional students in your program as well, but especially for young people that don’t have work experience, giving them an opportunity to build experience while they’re building their knowledge so they’re building knowledge and skill at the same time, they’ve got something to put on their resumes, and then having just that exposure.

Because a lot of first generation college students, a lot of first generation professionals have never had exposure to a corporate setting or to the expectations of working in a cube farm, whether that cube farm is in real life or virtual. I was in that position when I started work. I didn’t know how to send a professional email. I didn’t know. There were certain unwritten rules of the workplace that I didn’t know and somebody had to pull me aside and tell me.

Having, I think, that marriage of the book smarts and the real world experience is going to set these young people up for success, but it’s also a good reminder I think to the corporations where people are starting from and what they need to have in place if they want to retain folks and give them a good shot at success once they come in. Would you agree?

Evan T. Green:

I would agree 1,000%. Part of the philosophy of what we do, our JEDI office manages two student specific programs. One program, it’s both a leadership development and personal development programs. One is called MAVERIX, with an X, specifically designed for our students that identify as LGBTQIA. And then we have another program called ATMOS, which is specifically for our underrepresented students. We really define underrepresented based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, as well as socioeconomics.

It allows us to meet a lot of folks that are coming from a lot of different places. But in both of those programs, really what we’re pushing and specifically in MAVERIX is holistic development. We’re meeting with our students once a term for about an hour at the very least, but we’re also taking a look at resumes. What’s your resume look like? How do we help support your resume to make sure it’s where it needs to be so you can give it to employers?

For this ELI program that we talk about, it’s hosting mock interviews so that our students get experience with some of the questions they’re going to hear. So that when they do get to this interview setting, it’s not new. They’ve already been exposed. They’ve already started thinking about answers to questions. Additionally, within that program, we have a career development piece where we’re identifying allies out in the community and stakeholders to come in and talk to our students.

It’s HR folks, it’s in creative spaces because that’s just the community that we live in that our students ultimately want to work in. We’re bringing those people in to say, “This is what we’re looking for at our organizations. This is how you show up.” The example that I always use, and there’s folks out there from Nike that disagree with this, I’m sorry, but an example we like to use is say you go to an interview at Nike, you probably don’t want to show up in a suit and tie, right? Because understanding that industry, that’s not what those people wear or what the culture is.

Helping to teach that, I’m sorry, each discipline or space that you’re going in has its own culture. How do you show up for that? How do you learn about that culture prior, so you’re not the guy at the interview in a three-piece suit while everyone else is in Nike attire. You’re like, “Oh my gosh, I have a closet full of this stuff if I just knew.” A lot of what we do is to really prepare, at least through our JEDI office and through our student support staff, is to really prepare our students for that.

We do exposure. We had a networking event yesterday evening where we brought students to a sporting event. Our feeling is that our students are going to go corporate. They’re going to be in situations where they’re going to need to be in a suite or in a sky box or something like that, and they’re going to need to not be overwhelmed by the moment. They’re going to need to be able to be in that moment, be able to still network, be able to still sell a product if that’s what they need to do in that moment, but not be so odd by the moment that they can’t really get what they need done.

A lot of what we try to do is exposure and experience and many different ways we try to expose our students to all the things they’re going to experience in the world so that they can thrive once those opportunities come up.

Amy C. Waninger:

That piece that you just said is so important because I sit here in Indiana almost 50 years old still intimidated by some of the spaces that I have to go in to do business because I’ve never been in a sky box at a professional sporting event. I was talking to somebody about attending the Kentucky Derby as part of an event and I’m like, I don’t own a hat. I don’t know where to buy a hat.

I don’t know what a hat would cost, and I’m still at 50 years old thinking, what do I do if I’m in this situation? My anxiety starts to bubble up. I’m thinking, if you’re a 20-year-old college kid, 22 year old college graduate and you’ve never been in those spaces, now you’ve not just got all of that anxiety, but there’s also the age differential. There’s so much at play there.

Evan T. Green:

Yeah, I’m sorry to interrupt, but even add that layer of all that and first gen, so you have no one in your network who’s done it before either. This is all you first time. Not to mention just this thing in your head like everybody at this level operates this way and no one’s told them it’s wrong, so I’m not there. I’m not as smart as… And everything just starts to, I think, become really heavy on you and I think gets in the way of you showing up authentically, which if you did, people would I think gravitate to, understand, be like, “Wow, it’s just great to hear from you,” type of thing.

That anxiety and a lack of knowing really, I think, gets in people’s way, and we try our best through our programmatic efforts, again, specifically with our students to give them those experiences so that they can ultimately be prepared and be able to step into those moments with a little less anxiety. There’s going to be some anxiety, but we just want to help tamper some of that.

Amy C. Waninger:

You take one unknown out of the equation and that makes the rest of the equation easier to solve, but every additional unknown creates more complexity, creates more stress. This is something that I don’t know that a lot of schools are focusing on, and so I think it’s important and really unique and exciting that there’s some intentionality behind this, because that is a missing component for a lot of people.

Evan T. Green:

I got excited because shameless plug, we went through this whole strategic planning thing and our decision was we are going to do things differently. We are doing business differently. We are training our students to do business differently. We’re looking at our students and accepting that there are universities across this country that have business schools that are amazing and they’re buttoned up and all the great things. Our students, you mentioned age before, our students are mostly non-traditional, so our average age of an undergrad student is 26 years old.

Our students are coming in with experience. They’re coming in with life experience. Maybe not work experience all the time, but life experience. Our students may on the surface not look like you… We live in Portland, so we keep Portland weird and our students are pink hair and tattoos and piercings and all the things, but that doesn’t mean they’re not qualified. It doesn’t mean they’re not smart. It doesn’t mean they don’t have something to offer. In fact, I think our students are grittier and bringing a lot more to the table.

It’s us starting we had to make this commitment was to really celebrate who our students are as opposed to trying to make our students into something they’re not to fit this mold or to fit some kind of image of what a business student was supposed to be. But to your earlier question, world’s changing. You know what I mean? Skills and the needs for skills have changed. The way you get those skills have changed. I’m out here on the West Coast. The way you show up for work has changed to some degree.

It’s us really, I think, leaning into that and really training our students to be the best they can be. Because again, if you come in looking a certain way, folks are going to think a certain thing. We want to make sure our students are so great that regardless of what the appearance is or what someone’s reading, that they can see that our students are just different and that you need one of our students around your boardroom table, around your meeting table.

Because our students are going to be the ones that are going to raise their hand and be like, “Hey, what about this group that’s not in the room? Or what have we thought about doing it this way? Have we ever tried it in a slightly different way?” I think we’re training and building creators that I think when given the space can change the world or even change the culture of the spaces that they’re in.

Amy C. Waninger:

I think the companies that hire these folks are going to be lucky to have them, and I think they’re going to see long-term a competitive advantage because they’re going to see representation inside their corporations that matches the needs and the experiences and the values of the customer bases that are changing outside their corporations.

And that’s where so much of this comes into play that companies really need to understand what’s in the mindsets of the people outside their four walls and how do they make those connections, and that’s a lot easier to do when you have that representation inside.

Evan T. Green:

I agree, and part of this is students, but part of it’s faculty. It’s how do we support our faculty and staff to make some of those changes too because they’re coming from old guard corporate spaces. How do we help them even understand concepts of diversity, conversations about pronouns, things like that? How do we infuse that with them so that they can then teach and pass that on? A big push that we’re looking at is how do we… I always use the example of accounting. People think accounting is just numbers, and there’s no race or ethnicity or inclusion aspect to accounting.

A lot of times there are. I know you might be only dealing with an algorithm or a bot. Whoever decided to think about voice technology, for example, is, “Oh, it’s voice. It’s a robot. It’ll be fine,” but forgot the way people of color sometimes enunciate compared to the way women and how their voices kind of range. If you don’t create a system that’s taking that into account in the beginning, you get garbage on the backend. It’s helping our faculty understand, again, you have a chance to really infuse some of this stuff early on.

Be more intentional about finding cases that have a lens that talk about diversity. Bring things into the classroom. If maybe your coursework doesn’t look like it lends to it, maybe bring in a speaker or an adjunct or someone into the classroom to support, again, because we’re dealing with first gen folks, we’re dealing with people from marginalized backgrounds who in some cases have not seen people standing up in the classroom that look like them or come from backgrounds that they come from.

It’s helping the faculty understand that there’s an opportunity there as well to help support and train and develop your students.

Amy C. Waninger:

Evan, I have to say, I am so excited about the work that you’re doing. I’m excited for your students, and I’m excited for the business community in Portland that is going to benefit from this for generations to come. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your experience and all of the amazing things you’re doing at the Portland State University School of Business. Thank you.

Evan T. Green:

Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. We’re trying our best. It’s a journey and we’ll get there eventually, but really trying to get some small wins along the way and make change as we can.

Voiceover Announcer:

If you’ve enjoyed this episode, follow Lead at Any Level on LinkedIn and YouTube. Then, join us for Including You video simulcast every Thursday at noon Eastern. Including You can also be enjoyed each week as part of the Living Corporate audio podcast series. Available on all major podcast platforms. Learn more at living-corporate.com. Including You is brought to in part by Lead at Any Level, a boutique training and consulting firm improving employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within.

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Amy C. Waninger:

That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Be sure to join me next week when my guest will be Amy Barnard Bahn.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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