Continuing to build toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion

Stephen Scott and Robert Parker
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Approximately four months ago, I had the privilege of making a once-in-a-lifetime call to a pro-bono client regarding his admission to the bar. The case in question involved a 1992 decision by the Oregon Supreme Court to uphold the denial of Mr. Robert Parker to the Oregon State Bar despite him successfully passing the written exam. Despite Parker’s hard work in the face of unlikely odds to complete college and then law school, and then to pass the bar, he was kept out. That was until four months ago, when the Oregon Supreme Court reversed its decision to uphold an Oregon State Bar board’s determination that he was unfit. Making that call, and saying, “Good afternoon, counselor” was the second-best moment of 2021. (Since this is all in print, I cannot in good faith tell my newborn daughter that she was not the best part of 2021!)

Now what that preceding paragraph does not tell you is that based purely on appearances, Mr. Parker and I share nothing in common. He is an African American and a Muslim. I am white and a Catholic. We were an unlikely pairing 30 years ago (when Mr. Parker was first denied access). However, a lot has changed, both socially and professionally within the state of Oregon, over the past 30 years. And while conversations about diversity and equity can often be difficult, they are much needed; for those conversations to occur, one must know where we as a state came from, to know where we as a state need to go. The perfect example of this active engagement is the Safe from Hate initiative.

Through the Safe from Hate initiative, the National Association of Minority Contractors’ Oregon chapter, Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter and several key companies, organizations and figures have taken the lead in pushing city and state agencies and others in the industry to understand internal systemic racism and the barriers it perpetuates to excluding contractors of color as well as adopt more transparent and commonsense contracting and procurement reforms. It accomplishes this via panel discussions that connect prime contractors, subcontractors, professional services and public agencies to opportunities and new industry relationships.

Such opportunities could mirror those recently seen in Birmingham, Alabama, where a team of Black real estate developers were collectively awarded a $100 million contract for the largest housing project led solely by African Americans. The multiphase project will include single-family, multifamily and senior housing elements for approximately 900 residents. Additionally, the contemplated plans include a town center with a grocery store and commercial retail office spaces.

Unfortunately, based on OPB’s April 27, 2021 findings (indicating that only about 1 percent of the more than $200 million in goods and services that the city of Portland enters contracts for found their way into the coffers of the African American community of contractors), we are not there yet. To say that we can do better is an understatement. We can, and we must, as a community, do better.

We cannot say that it cannot be done, because Seattle and San Francisco are both doing better than Portland. (In Seattle, businesses owned by people of color received 11.4 percent of dollars the city spent in 2019 in its comparable category of contracts; in San Francisco, the figure is 6.3 percent for that fiscal year.) As a native Portlander, I rue losing to these cities in anything. The reality is that opportunities exist, the conversations are being had, and there is traction within the community to make a change – all factors that have not always been present over the past 30 years.

Ultimately, it is my belief that my columns should not be limited exclusively to fear-mongering about the latest cases, statutes or regulations. Sometimes, we, as a community, should stop, commend ourselves for the steps taken, recognize that those steps are just the beginning, and endeavor to continue making positive impacts within our community. It is with that in mind that I had the honor of writing this column with Mr. Parker. In the same way, everyone in construction should be proud of the steps they have taken to advance diversity, equity and inclusion within the industry as well as the steps they intend to take moving forward. The reality is that when we stop defining ourselves by our differences, and begin focusing on our similarities, true growth, which benefits everyone, can occur.


Stephen Scott is a partner in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips, a national firm dedicated to representing employers’ interests in all aspects of workplace law. Contact him at 503-205-8094 or

Robert Parker is an attorney in Portland at the Law Office of Robert R. Parker Jr., LL.B. Contact him at 503-444-3417 or robert@robertparkerlawoffices .com.