At a recent private Portland business event, it finally hit me—my “Portland business normal” of predominantly white males can no longer be acceptable for Portland.
The Portland business community has had incredible momentum for growth in a lot of areas, which has attracted great people, money, and national press. Portland is undoubtedly one of the coolest, most progressive cities to live and work in. Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems that we haven’t tackled yet is the embarrassing distinction of being the whitest city in America, as awarded by The Washington Post.
I believe that we in the business community have not been as intentional as we should be about truly connecting with Portland’s communities of color, which has led to very few people of color being interviewed for key positions in the private sector. 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. We, of course, need to continue recruiting executives of color from outside of the region to lead in Portland, but this strategy alone will not address the complex challenges we face in a racialized business community.
A recent TechCrunch article talks about some positive momentum being put in motion by dynamic folks like Stephen Green. Great leaders have focused on diversity and inclusion work in the entrepreneurial community in Portland; however, our collective investments in the area of community engagement have not been enough. We need more intentionality.
If Portland wants to compete in the global economy, it needs to reflect a commitment to welcoming diverse leadership and global citizens.
Portland will not be as competitive on the national or global stage for top employee talent until we, as Portland business leaders, recognize our inability to create an environment attractive to diverse leaders and create an action plan to solve for it (Portland is 76% white and business leadership is overly represented by white males). Clearly, the end goal is seeing diverse leaders embrace roles—from entry-level positions to top-level leadership in companies—but we will not build a long-term, sustainable solution until we first create more relational synergy between Portland’s communities of color and the business community.
A paid intern program for college-aged leaders of color
I am excited to announce the development of a new initiative we are calling the Portland Emerging Leaders Internship program. This program will partner with local businesses and nonprofits and match these organizations with emerging men and women of color currently attending one of our local higher education institutions. This program will be run by Portland Leadership Foundation (PLF), who are co-founders of the Portland Emerging Leaders Internship program and also run three scholarship programs in Portland—most notably the Act Six scholarship. Act Six has been working with students of color for over a decade and has awarded $14M of college scholarships since 2002. PLF does great work, and I couldn’t agree more with how Adam Ristick, Assistant Director of Scholarships, articulates the challenge we are working to solve:
“The city of Portland is in the midst of massive change. We understand that as Portland continues to grow, so will the number of people of color throughout the region. Historically, the business community has struggled to attract and hire local diverse talent. Now more than ever, business leaders, nonprofit leaders, and higher education institutions need to step up to empower local diverse talent. We need to build partnerships and create more opportunities that will prepare local college students to compete to become the future business leaders in the city they call home.“
From the private sector, 39 CEOs and Executives have pledged to place interns at their companies already, including Salt and Straw, barre3, DHM Research, The Meadow, Store It, The Hello Foundation, The Spectrum Experience, Thug Design, Watson Creative, Allion USA, Epic Imaging, eROI, Portland Leadership Foundation, Yahoo! (Hillsboro office), Metal Toad, Friends of the Children, Apex Real Estate Partners, Response Capture, Oregon BEST, FMYI, Single Mind Consulting, PixelSpoke, Cascade Web Development, Hi-Tec Sports, Logicbox Software, Oregon Environmental Council, Bright.MD, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Living Room Realty, Lane Powell, Columbia Distributing, HFO Real Estate, Trendline Interactive, Anvil Media, NAVEX Global, Elemental Technologies, Dave’s Killer Bread, Puppet Labs, and Wieden+Kennedy.
From the public sector, Multnomah County Commissioner staffer Walter Robinson II talks about the success of their 2015 interns placed by Act Six:
Walter Robinson II
“I had the opportunity to work with Act Six intern Israel Hammond through a partnership with Worksystems Inc., Multnomah County, and Black Male Achievement. He was the only Act Six intern that participated in the BMA Summer Youth Experience. He, along with his peers, planned a youth summit focused on improving the life outcomes of black men and boys in four key areas: Education, Employment, Family Stability, and Criminal Justice. Act Six prepared him for success by fine-tuning the skills he already possessed. He emerged as a leader and did exceptionally well leading conversations and discussions within group settings and at the youth summit.”
For the sake of our city, this program must be successful, and we need buy-in from the entrepreneur community as well as larger businesses in the Greater Portland area.
It has unfortunately taken me 20 years to come to the realization that I have not been intentional enough in building a diverse workforce. Along with my colleagues, I am committing now to building the new Portland Emerging Leaders Internship. I will take action. I ask you to also take action and help us make change in the city we love.