Opinion: Mentors can inspire future leaders

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For people in marginalized communities who often face added challenges in getting ahead, mentorship is very valuable.

Your business may strive to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), but it’s important you remember one critical piece to advancing the career outlook for diverse professionals: mentorship.

I first realized the importance of mentorship in junior high school from my English teacher. She taught me many of the fundamental skills I use today, such as standing up straight and projecting in front of an audience. She even introduced me to on-stage theatre, which is now my main source of confidence. Though I had great mentors growing up, it’s important to me that other diverse professionals are introduced to opportunities and guidance that can lead to career success.

In fact, I was born and raised in Monroe, Georgia, and get to witness firsthand why Atlanta is revered as “The” city for Black professionals. From Georgia counties landing among the nation’s healthiest communities for Black residents, to housing several historically black colleges, our community is a great place for rising professionals.

Kitty Chaney Reed
Caption
Kitty Chaney Reed

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

However, Black residents still experience disproportionate unemployment, especially during COVID-19. In November 2020, Black Georgians filed 93 percent more unemployment claims than their white counterparts, according to a Georgia Budget and Policy Institute study. This disparity sheds a light on the resources needed for Georgia’s Black population to fully thrive.

While many factors may be hindering progress, businesses can start to improve equity and inclusion by providing access to mentorship and leadership opportunities.

Mentorship shows significant benefits for young professionals, from providing support and nurturing career development, to enabling access to opportunities. For people in marginalized communities who often face added challenges in getting ahead, mentorship is very valuable. According to mentoring.org, young adults who are at risk but have mentors are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions. And while gender-inclusive organizations experience as much as 61% higher revenue growth than others, only one in four organizations make the advancement of women a top 10 priority, according to IBM’s Institute for Business Value 2021 Women and Leadership study.

In cities like Atlanta where a majority of the population is Black, we should work together to give back to the community. It’s not enough to stand by the Black community when a tragic incident occurs or during Black History Month. We should be proactive in our journey to obtaining a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce.

Here are some things we as business leaders can all improve on:

  • Don’t just think, act. As mentors, we should aim to create more opportunities for diverse professionals to grow. It can be easy to fall back on statements of solidarity and good intentions. However, the real magic happens when mentors understand the needs of young, diverse professionals and provide them with the resources and access to help get there.
  • Treat your diversity program as a business initiative. As the Georgia Senior State Executive at IBM and member of our Black Executive Council, I get to oversee some of our DEI campaigns, including Emb(race), our social justice initiative aimed at combating racial inequity. Like many of our social initiatives, we treat Emb(race) as a business objective with tangible goals and metrics. Doing so helps maintain accountability on our leaders and weighs social programs on the same level as business growth.
  • Seek outside perspective on your company’s progress. Improving DEI is not a race nor a competition. It’s a collective effort to address society’s longstanding history of neglecting minority communities. Businesses should work together to achieve this common goal, while also encouraging honest, objective feedback from members outside of the organization.

All children should have the opportunity to explore their full potential, not just those with wealth or connections. With a community as diverse and rich in culture as Atlanta, businesses should strive to improve support resources and close the employment disparity for Black residents. It’s time we start supporting more of our diverse professionals who lack access and show the world just how inclusive Atlanta can be.

Let’s not wait until National Mentoring Day in October to take action. Pave a way for the next generation of leaders today.

Kitty Chaney Reed is IBM’s senior state executive in Georgia.