Emerging Leaders and Thesis Celebrate Fifth Season

October 7, 2020


Emerging Leaders, a nonprofit dedicated to improving racial and cultural diversity at the leadership level in Portland-area companies, and founding partner company Thesis, a digital agency, celebrate the completion of their fifth internship season. With COVID-19 disrupting or halting many internship programs across the country, Emerging Leaders successfully placed motivated college students and recent college graduates of color at some of Portland’s most forward-thinking companies this past summer, including seven interns at Thesis. Together, participating companies and interns are helping to create a stronger, more inclusive business community.

In 2016, Ryan Buchanan, CEO of Thesis, co-founded Emerging Leaders to challenge business leaders to actively foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in their own companies and to create pathways to leadership for aspiring students of color. The internship program aims to remove barriers to access, connecting talented students of color with leadership-track, paid internships at top companies throughout the Greater Portland area. For companies, participating in the internship and mentoring program helps them take meaningful steps toward building a stronger, more diverse workforce and potentially increasing profits.

“Multiple studies have shown diverse teams perform better and are more innovative, especially when there’s diversity at the leadership level,” said Felicia Tripp Folsom, Executive Director of Emerging Leaders. “The program is designed to be a win-win for aspiring students and companies by attracting and keeping diverse, motivated talent in our city and supporting the creative and innovative atmosphere we have here.”

Over the past five summers, Emerging Leaders has placed 376 interns at more than 100 partner companies in the Portland area such as Nike, PGE, Wieden+Kennedy, ThinkShout, CrowdStreet, and Oregon Community Foundation. Thesis has hired 26 of those interns and has gone on to permanently hire and promote 15 alumni from the program.

Elijah Graham, part of the program’s class of 2016, is one example of an intern who, when given the opportunity, has been able to advance his career in a relatively short period of time. His three-month summer internship led to a full-time role as a Junior Designer at Thesis, and today he is Studio Manager, working as a leader on a world-renowned athletic shoe account. There are several other former interns on similar paths.

Emerging Leaders not only removes barriers to help aspiring professionals of color such as Graham get noticed, but leads to financial benefits for engaged and active companies. The correlation between diversity and financial performance, as seen in several studies, is holding true at Thesis.

“Since getting intentional about creating a more equitable workplace and participating in the internship program, we’ve grown our workforce from 12 to 33 percent people of color,” said Buchanan. “Instituting the Emerging Leaders internship program has just been a piece of our DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) journey and we remain deeply committed to improving diversity with ongoing efforts across the organization. Interestingly, the increase in our workforce diversity has coincided with our revenue growth. We’ve more than tripled our revenue growth since 2016. Many of our accounts have expanded because our innovation has enabled us to offer clients more services and boundary-pushing ideas.”

Last year, the agency committed to a year-long DEI program with a consultant for 2020 to ensure the essential practice is sustainable for the long term. While it has implemented several internal and external training programs over the past five years, it formalized several new initiatives this year, including establishing an internal DEI team, a wage equity plan, and a foundation that supports organizations that engage in issues of racial equity and contribute to underserved communities.

“The ideal outcome of this hyper-focused DEI initiative is to have a replicable blueprint for other companies to follow and hopefully make a bigger impact across the larger business community,” Buchanan said. “The Emerging Leaders internship and mentorship program is an integral part of that and a great first step many companies who are finally prioritizing DEI can take.”

For students or companies interested in learning more about the Emerging Leaders internship program, visit https://www.emergingleaderspdx.org.

About Emerging Leaders

Emerging Leaders (EL) is a nonprofit dedicated to improving racial and cultural diversity at the leadership level in Portland-area companies. Its mission is to empower diverse talent to excel as professionals through opportunity and a supportive community. The Emerging Leaders program’s internship and mentorship programs are designed to remove barriers and provide a pathway to leadership for traditional and non-traditional students of color and aspiring professionals.

About Thesis

Founded in 2002, Thesis, formerly eROI, is an award-winning, full-service digital agency specializing in email marketing, strategy, web design, development, and social media. Thesis offers account planning, performance management, and relationship management, as well as brand, campaign, content, social, and digital-channel strategy to help partners connect with audiences in meaningful ways. Thesis was named among the Portland Business Journal’s Most Admired Companies in 2019 and named one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon. For more information, please visit https://thesis.agency.

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