They say sometimes you have to take the wrong turn to end up in the right place. I feel like, as a company, we are exactly where we need to be at the perfect moment in time. We are ready to help fulfill our vision to make all workplaces diverse, inclusive and equitable while advancing and maximizing the careers of underrepresented minorities. That is why I am so happy to announce today the evolution of The Whether into Mentor Spaces.
Let me explain how we got to this exciting moment.
In 2017 my company Better Weekdays launched its latest product, The Whether, with the mission to remove friction experienced by underrepresented minorities when transitioning from college to career. Debuting at SXSWedu, we took first prize in the launch competition and were on our way to building a company that would provide a meaningful impact in the lives of people that I wanted to serve – people who looked like me.
Serendipitously, a friend who had just started working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation attended the event. At the time, The Gates Foundation had been actively looking to invest in innovations for career advising that would benefit students who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The chance encounter resulted in a $775,000 grant to fund important research and development to support our mission.
That research helped us ultimately realize we were building the wrong company.
At the time, The Whether aggregated and personalized jobs and career content for Black and Latinx college students who didn’t have the access and visibility to the diversity of companies and opportunities that were looking for them.
Despite the promise of our solution, along the way we uncovered a few truths. First, students didn’t want to use it regularly and second, university career centers felt that we were the competition.
It was a classic case of a startup solving the wrong problem. Don’t get me wrong – students experienced friction – but there was something deeper at play that wasn’t very obvious. One could also argue that it was the wrong solution to a clear problem, which often stems from mis-diagnosing the problem in the first place. Friction was the effect, not the cause.
We could have continued along our original path and probably been successful. But it wouldn’t have been enough. We felt there was still more to do. There was still more potential for our startup. We realized there was more to understand and there was more we could offer beyond a job and career content.
We had to get to the cause of the problem.
When we asked ourselves why students and early career professionals experienced such friction, it became clear that it stemmed from an overall lack of confidence. This stemmed, in part, from the network gap which exists among underrepresented minorities. A person can’t be who they haven’t seen!
The insights our research uncovered implied a different solution altogether. One that emphasized building authentic relationships through mentorship.
What we didn’t realize is just how needed that solution would become.
Over the past few years, our team has learned and changed. Over the past several months, America has been doing the same. Although Covid-19 amplifies the challenges underrepresented students and early career professionals face, the national discussion around diversity, equity and inclusion provides an opportunity to change the narrative. More so now than ever, people are hungry for change. There has been an awakening and we are transitioning now from awareness to action. Even Fast Company called out mentoring and our app as a way to to make lasting change for Black-owned businesses, a way to think long-term and commit to making a diverse pipeline for executive teams and leadership.
We are giving companies and individuals a chance to act.
We are offering companies a tangible solution that closes the gap between where our nation is today, and what I believe it can be. That is the vision of what is now Mentor Spaces: to make all workplaces diverse, inclusive and equitable while advancing and maximizing the careers of underrepresented minorities.
Our mission is to connect Black and Latinx college students and early career professionals with mentors to maximize their career potential while simultaneously giving companies a more direct pathway to exceptional, diverse talent.
As I mentioned earlier, now is a time for action. So we’re taking the action of making our platform free for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (and the organizations that support them). You see, we’re still focused on eliminating friction. We believe in the value of the mentor/protégé relationships. We want all underrepresented professionals to have that opportunity. We want to encourage universities to recommend this to their students and alumni.
Mentor Spaces is a direct response to what our research has taught us. We know that it will help. We also know that we can’t do it alone. We need your help.
Those of us who have achieved some level of professional success have a responsibility to help cultivate the next generation; to lift as we climb.
If you want to get involved as a mentor, please apply here.
If you work at a company that wants to implement Mentor Spaces, let’s talk.