Portland’s Business Community is Too White and Too Male. Let’s change that.

In 2017, our calls-to-action will be authored by local entrepreneurs and Business for a Better Portland members highlighting an agenda issue they are actively working on to share with the broader business community. Our first post is by Ryan Buchanan, founder and CEO of digital marketing agency eROI who will describe concrete efforts to increase workforce inclusion.

A year ago I wrote that the Portland business community looked too much like me: too white and too male. I saw an opportunity for business leaders to be more intentional about connecting with Portland’s communities of color. In order to make a long-term change to the system, where Portland is a destination for our country’s finest leaders, regardless of color or gender, we need to start first in our own backyard and make a commitment to mentor the incredible talent that is already here.

Over the past 14 months a coalition of dozens of companies, higher education leaders, and workforce development professionals have worked to answer this question: how can Portland businesses — whose leadership is overwhelmingly white and male — reflect a genuinely diverse world?

The Emerging Leaders Internship (ELI) Program answers this question by matching minority college students with paid internships at top companies in Portland, including Elemental Technologies, Puppet, Treehouse, barre3, Salt and Straw, Yahoo!, PGE, PDC, and Port of Portland. As interns, these students and recent graduates have access to the executive teams and can see how leadership is role modeled. ELI is meant to teach practical skills, launch careers, and galvanize young leaders. The hope is that they’ll be on the management teams of Portland’s top companies in the future. ELI’s goal is simple and ambitious: equality in business leadership.

Today, I am calling on five Business For A Better Portland members and local businesses to join us by March 4th. Contact Adam Ristick, adam.ristick@portlandleadership.org to get your company up and running with an exceptional ELI intern this summer.

The details:

  • Each paid internship runs approximately June 1 to September 1.
  • Ideal applicants are first-generation students and recent grads, students of color, and lower-income students.
  • Internship roles include positions like technical coding and development, advertising, finance, law, social entrepreneurship, design, and project management.
  • Participants earn $15 hourly at a rate of 30–40 hours per week.
  • They contribute to real-world projects, participants regularly meet with senior leadership and mentors at their host companies.
  • Last year we placed 35 interns. Our goal is to successfully place 125 interns this upcoming summer.

Here’s what program participants have to say about the experience:

“The ELI program gave me a taste of industry life in one of the most vibrant and innovative companies in Portland. Working for Barre3 showed me what it means to love my job.”

– Kiana Neisig, 2016 Intern

“The ELI program and staff gave us driven, passionate, and intelligent candidates. Our intern invested himself as if he was going to be a long-term member of the team — not just someone who was here for 12 weeks.”

– Meghan Hastie, Director of Marketing at Salt & Straw

“We had the privilege of hosting Shianne, an ambitious, passionate undergraduate ready to change the world one conversation at a time. I’m always looking to diversify talent, and now I know where I can find it!”

– Ann Aman, Director of Ad Operations at Yahoo!

Commit to increasing diversity in Portland’s business leadership. Contact Adam Ristick, adam.ristick@portlandleadership.org to get your company up and running with an exceptional ELI intern this summer.

PS. ELI is just one program we’re supporting in 2017. What other initiatives do you recommend we learn about that are supporting increased workforce inclusion? Could your company benefit from any support from BBPDX and our community partners in making progress on this goal inside your own company? Does your company have any success stories that your fellow BBPDX members could learn from? Please contact us at board@bbpdx.org and let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

As always, find us at bbpdx.org and learn about our past calls-to-action.