Every day we’re excited to come into the office. Not many people can say that. But we can, because we know the work we’re doing matters. We believe we can change the world. Each of us has a different story to tell, a different story about why doing good in the world matters to us. We thought we’d share it with you. Get to know the Pyramigos!
Meet Emily. She’s a creative problem solver, advocate for homeless youth, and Pyramid's Marketing Operations Director.
First off, Emily, what do you do at Pyramid?
More than anything else, I am a creative problem solver. Whether for Pyramid or for my clients, I love to get everything—all of the pieces of a particular problem—on the table. I like to deconstruct the goals, internal and external dynamics, perceived barriers, and ideal outcomes. I love to facilitate future-focused conversations about how things could be different—better—and then with the help of as many brains as possible, put the pieces back together in a new way everyone can be excited about.
For the most part, my job is centered around business planning and marketing for the firm. I work with our leadership to define the impact we want to have across the core issues we work. Then, I show up every day to make it possible for our teams to achieve their desired impact. That’s partly about positioning Pyramid where that work is happening, partly about thinking through the highest potential impact approaches to work when we have the opportunity to do it, and partly about supporting internal teams, processes, and protocols to set us up for success in doing the work. Last summer I managed the Portland office through a transition to our new Senior Vice President, Greg. I’m also lucky enough to get to work with some of Pyramid’s clients on organizational positioning, brand strategy and marketing. Recently I’ve really enjoyed working with The Denver Foundation, Explore Washington Park, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, and the Oregon Zoo Foundation.
Do you have advice on how to be a creative problem solver?
To be a good creative problem solver, you have to be open. If someone comes to you with a problem, often, especially as consultants, the automatic reaction is to have the answer. But what I think is more approachable and conducive to success is to spend time listening first. Sometimes I spend a LOT of time listening. But if you can create the space to question assumptions and dig around a bit, you’ll often find that the initial challenge perceived or presented isn’t actually the real challenge. So the best way to be a creative problem solver, in my opinion, is to refrain from having the answer right away.
Interesting. I know you work a lot with philanthropic organizations. Why do you think you're drawn to work with foundations?
I'm inspired by the work that foundations do in the world. It’s particularly exciting to me to watch what’s happening in the philanthropic landscape today. Many of the largest, most influential foundations are sharpening their focus and really investing in going deep on fundamental challenges around equity and access. When we see that kind of alignment across the country about the change we seek, it’s encouraging. I’m also fascinated by the unique brand and communications challenges that surround foundations, particularly community foundations. Fundamentally, community foundations work in service of others—their donors, the grantees they fund, their community. Often, I’ve seen that service orientation lead community foundations to struggle with the idea of owning a clear point of view and position of their own. In my opinion, it’s both possible, and compelling, for community foundations to build brands that strike a balance between owning a point of view and honoring a service orientation.
You also mentioned you work a lot with Pyramid’s internal teams. Overall, what’s your favorite part of working at Pyramid?
The people. I love working to understand what my co-workers need to be best equipped to do what they do, and then making that environment real so they can do it.
That's great. What made you want to work for a cause-oriented organization?
My entire family works for social good. My mom was a public school teacher for years and now works for an ed-tech startup that connects kids at risk of dropping out of high school with real world mentors who invest in their interests. My step dad runs a nonprofit that helps people bring clarity and courage to their mission-driven work. My sister works to improve healthcare delivery. One brother is a musician, primarily in Latin bands, and the other brother and nearly all of my aunts and uncles are public school teachers. I have an aunt that was an activist in El Salvador… working for anything but social good was never going to be an option for me, whether I liked it or not! [Laughs.] I do.
Initially, I thought I would work in politics. After college, I interned at Seattle City Council. I found that politics weren’t a fit for me. When I was at the city council, I had a family friend who was a client of Pyramid’s say to me, “Do you know there are communications agencies who are entirely focused on causes? You can work for social causes and not in politics.” I did not know that was a thing [laughs]. I looked at Pyramid’s website and there was an internship available and have been lucky to work for a lot of different facets of the organization ever since.
Great! What are you passionate about personally?
I’m passionate about reducing homelessness and increasing access to affordable housing, particularly for Portland’s homeless youth. I’ll become the chair of the board of p:ear in June. p:ear works with homeless teenagers. What I love about working with p:ear is that every single interaction I have with these kids and every story the staff tell about one of them breaks down a stereotype about homelessness. The narrative around youth homelessness is that those experiencing it have mental health issues, are addicted to drugs, or are just experiencing teen angst and decided to run away from home. But in Portland, that’s far from the truth. The vast majority of Portland youth are actually homeless for one of two reasons: either they are victims of domestic abuse or they are gay and their parents kicked them out. Being engaged with p:ear is a humbling experience because so many of these kids have been through unspeakable trauma but every single one of them has a huge capacity for love and trust. It's made me think differently about the way I show up in my own life.
I’m also vice chair of a new board in Portland for socially responsible business: the B Local Board. We work closely with B Lab, the nonprofit that certifies B Corps, to build and strengthen Portland Metro’s socially responsible business community. I believe that business can be a force for good. I believe it’s one of our best hopes for our collective future, and so I’m proud to invest in the growth and sustainability of that community.
When you're not business planning, doing brand work or mentoring homeless youth, what do you do for fun?
Anything with my dog [laughs]. My favorite season is summer because I absolutely love the heat. I love to lay reading in the sun or swim with my dog. My favorite place in the world is my backyard. I like to play around in the garden, clean out the chicken coup, have a glass of wine back there after work, toss the ball around for my dog, or have friends over for dinner in the backyard. I just love my backyard [laughs]. It’s a really calm and relaxing space.
That sounds great. What are you up to on the weekend?
Well, during the summer, you can find me at Sauvie Island or in my backyard, obviously. During the winter, my favorite thing to do is go out to brunch with a girlfriend and talk for hours over a cup of coffee. I also like to spend time in my neighborhood of John’s Landing. There’s a growler shop in the neighborhood that my boyfriend and I love to hang at with the neighbors and neighborhood dogs. People don’t necessarily hang out in my neighborhood if they don’t live in the area, so I love that there’s a strong sense of community and that every restaurant has its regulars. It makes me feel really connected to the place I live.
Okay, one last question. What is the most important lesson that’s you’ve learned so far, at work or in life?
That’s a good question. Probably that nothing ever stays the same. And what you need as an individual in life doesn’t stay the same either. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to not look for a formula to my life, but to be in touch with how I’m feeling and adjust as things change around me.
Photo by Dan Lamont.