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A good IDEA for mentorship

  • 18 February 2021 / By J Schwan
  • Inside Kin + Carta

In June of 2020, in the midst of the tragically initiated but welcomed resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I reached out to my Kin for some mentoring. In this case I was specifically looking to be mentored by some of our Black Kin to provide an additional perspective to me on the Black Lives Matter movement, learn more from their lived experiences, and get their perspective on our own business’ inclusion and diversity programs.

This mentoring topic caught hold and we created the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Awareness) Mentorship Program with our entire global leadership team participating as pilot members along with ten of our Black Kin. I was paired up with three talented individuals from different parts of our business: Tyree Solomon-Phillips, a Cloud Software Engineer from our Americas Create pillar; Corinna Cremin, a Lead Product Designer from our European Create pillar; and Evelyn Ofosu, a Lead Designer from our European Connect pillar. We started our journey together getting to know each other by using a list of topics to guide our exploration:

  • Everyone’s background and a discussion on how race has been a factor in their life and career
  • Their views on the Black Lives Matter movement and what it meant to them
  • What they thought the main challenges were for our industry when it comes to race
  • What they thought the main challenges and opportunities were for our company when it comes to race
  • How they would like to see our inclusion and diversity programs evolve
  • What I could do as a leader to be more impactful in this area
  • What questions I was not asking that I should be asking

I gave them permission to not hold anything back in terms of how they felt about what we were doing as a firm and what I was doing as a leader. They gave me permission to ask stupid questions and not be embarrassed. We built up a rapport with one another very quickly.

We’ve met together every few weeks for the past eight months. Tyree, Corinna and Eve have helped shape our IDEA Strategic Plan. They pushed me and the rest of our leaders to be bolder in the diversity ambitions we have as a firm. They’ve helped prioritize the inclusion initiatives we have committed to. They’ve pointed out areas of the firm that need more focused direction and escalated incidents that were not being handled fairly. They’ve sent me messages encouraging me to clarify my thoughts on different subjects. They’ve critiqued my presentations. They have prodded, pushed, coached and taught me.

I have been blessed with many mentors over my career, but the conversations and relationships that I am building with Tyree, Eve and Corinna are some of the most valuable I have ever had.

We need mentors to teach and guide us in areas where we have not had the experience or the expertise to make the right decisions. Often times we may seek out mentors in areas of professional development or personal well-being; and those relationships are good and important and typical.

Being a white, middle-aged man growing up in a predominantly white community and working in an industry that is less than 3% Black; it is unrealistic for me to say that I can truly empathize with or even fully grasp the systemic racism and unconscious bias that exists in our industry; or perhaps even in pockets of our global company. I need a coach to help me learn how to lead in areas of inclusion and diversity. I need a boots-on-the-ground perspective that ensures we are walking the walk when it comes to IDEA. I need others to help make sure that we are living our purpose to create a world that works better for everyone; one day at a time, one step at a time.

Eve, Corinna and Tyree, I want to thank you for the time you have given to help me be a better leader. I have learned a lot and I know I have a lot more to learn. Our relationship has truly been a gift.

Another way to ensure the voices of the underrepresented are heard is to increase the diversity of our leadership teams. One shocking statistic that was shared with me recently was that in our industry, 97% of our CEOs are white. In an effort to redress this imbalance, coupled with our own focus on driving further diversity at the top of Kin + Carta, we are currently rolling out our first IDEA Leadership Accelerator Program. We are piloting the program in Europe with ten incredible future leaders (including my mentor Corrinna Cremin). This seven month curriculum is designed to build confidence, authentic leadership and help our Kin build networks across the tech industry in order to accelerate their careers. Our plan is to learn from our pilot and rollout the program globally by the end of this year.

I hope other organizations consider the opportunity to set up their own IDEA mentorship and leadership programs. If you’d like to learn more about Kin + Carta’s, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

-J