Leila Thomas and Jacquline Alcindor of Urban Synergy on Mentorship and Opportunity
“A network that could be a beacon of light for young people.” That is Urban Synergy Founder Leila Thomas’ goal for her organization. Urban Synergy Mentoring Pool is an early intervention charity that is paving the road for underserved youth in London, one mentorship at a time.
In a thought-provoking episode in our Keeping Work Human video series with Workhuman® CHRO Steve Pemberton, Leila and D&I expert and consultant Jacquline Alcindor share the importance of mentors, allies, and enlightened leaders in promoting equity for all.
Leila felt compelled to start Urban Synergy when she realized, “I knew a lot of positive, successful people in different professions,” that could have an invaluable impact on the lives of young people in London. “It’s about preparing young people for opportunities, so they don’t miss them.”
Jacquline joined the Urban Synergy team at the start of 2020 because she wanted to use her D&I expertise to support her community. As a Black professional she “really wanted to help young people fulfill their dreams, and to give them a hand up,” because she understands how challenging it can be to find a network.
A world away
When asked about the importance of young people having mentors, Jacquline contends, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Leila, too, knows for underserved communities in London without connections, it can be tricky to get a foot in the door.
A mentor can provide the knowledge, resources, and connections necessary for young people to reach their full potential, regardless of race, gender, or income level. Mentorship is not strictly altruistic, either. Jacquline reminds us that when given the right support, the youth Urban Synergy works with “bring so much diverse thinking and can think about problems in a creative way, which adds real value to the bottom line of corporate organizations.” The problem, Jacquline says, “is we just don’t take that risk.”
Innovating through the pandemic
The global pandemic has touched all aspects of work and life, and community outreach programs are no exception. Face-to-face communication, fundraising, and networking events are three aspects of Urban Synergy’s process that had to be adjusted during COVID-19, but that did not discourage the team. In fact, studies show the virus is having a disproportionate impact on low income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color), meaning support for these young people is needed more than ever.
After looking at the traditional program, Leila found “one-to-one mentoring was the first thing that was able to stay alive,” through teleconferencing software. Even further, with the help of Jacquline, the team “created an online mentoring program to continue building those soft skills” that are so essential in today’s business world. By staying in touch with these young people during stressful times, those feelings of isolation and discouragement are avoided, and they can instead focus on achieving their goals.
COVID-19 surely brought setbacks, but Jacquline believes it’s also creating new opportunities for organizations to innovate. “I looked at what our unique proposition was and pivoted so that we could actually serve the community.”
Leila believes in what she calls “personal social responsibility.” She urges business leaders from all industries to “share your privileges to help others make the world a better place.” By opening the door for underrepresented youth, we can all do our part in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
As the fight for racial and social parity gains traction, more people are beginning to speak up about their experiences. This was not always the case. For many low income and BIPOC, Jacquline says, “they’re concerned if they speak up, they’ll lose opportunities, they’ll lose that promotion, they’ll lose that opportunity to go to the university of their choice.” Providing young people in underserved communities with mentors helps create equal opportunities for all. A mentor’s guidance and support may be exactly what they need to find their voice and feel safe speaking up about the biases they have faced. Only then will we be able to create a truly equal, inclusive workplace.
Urban Synergy has found that by illuminating different career paths and providing support to get there, young people are able “to do the thing they’re really passionate about.” As Steve sees it, “it’s a reflection of a certain kind of wisdom, that when you have good choices, you’ll make good choices.”
Enlightened leaders and awakened allies
Having a mentor can give young people the leg up they need to enter the business world, but the work does not end there. Both individuals and organizations can help continue this positive cycle. Leila suggests all organizations should offer work experience for young adults to gain industry knowledge. Adding to that, Steve asks organizations, “what are you willing to do differently when it comes to supplier diversity and hiring practices?”
Considering the recent push for racial justice, the need for workplace transformation is more apparent than ever. Organizations looking to make a positive change are now looking internally to see how best they can serve everyone in their community.
According to Jacquline, now is the time to “make sure everyone is included at the table.” As we work to create a more inclusive, diverse workforce, organizations should ask themselves, “do we have a plan that’s actionable, that’s actually going to create those opportunities and level the playing field?” If the answer is no, now is the time to start changing that.
Jacquline asks, “if you’re not helping, are you a part of the problem?” She suggests as allies we all “educate ourselves and understand what people’s lived experiences are.” Most importantly, an ally can’t stay silent. Allies need to educate, listen, and amplify the voices of those who have been oppressed.
Anyone can be an ally, but Jacquline believes business leaders set the tone for inclusivity. “When you’re in a position of power, it’s about how you can use your power positively to change lives.” This is a call to action. Whether you are an executive, manager, or associate, we all have a role in transforming our workplace into a diverse and inclusive environment.
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