Why Networks Matter | Barbara Kasumu, co-founder of Elevation Networks

shutterstock_387642220For today’s jobseekers, a lack of role models can be problematic. The inspiration and support that comes from those with more career experience is invaluable, and can have a big impact on the later career attitudes, confidence and success of their mentee.

Having been in that position myself, I am more than familiar with the difficulties of that age and stage. I have always been aware of the limited visibility of successful black women, beyond those in the public eye and this is something I really hope to see change during the next generations of professionals. That’s why I’ve become so actively involved in mentoring – I’ve learned that if you want something to change then you have to act.

Helping someone to achieve their goals and to grow in their profession is particularly rewarding within a community – a position from which you can often see and even reap the rewards of their hard work. I’m always happy to guide others away from, and around the mistakes that I made at that age. I also try to act as a sounding board, offering a sympathetic, but equally an experienced and professional ear. The discussions and advice that will be shared between you and your mentee will ultimately benefit both of you, as you’ll gain a different perspective of the current working environment, as much as you will share your own.

In the last few years it’s been proven that increased self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment, and insight into the future and adulthood are all benefits of mentoring schemes. Where the schemes start at a younger age, they are also suggested to decrease the use of alcohol and drugs, and increase university application rates. The soaring benefits of the schemes pitted against the minor investment of your time and experience shows the clear influence that networking can have for the generations of our future, and to me, proves its importance. I have no doubt that it is the same kindness and knowledge passed on from us that we will see fuelling the actions and decisions of the next few decades.

Although in today’s gender-conscious world people place an emphasis on women networking with women, this doesn’t have to be the best and only way to improve diversity. Where my business, and many others like it, certainly prioritise support for women, I believe that the gendered barriers that are still so prevalent in the work place require a team-effort from all genders to be broken down. In fact, many recent discussions have centred around how women can often be their own greatest barriers. It is these underlying stigmas that prevent successful and equal networking and mentoring systems from succeeding.

Often, we just put too much pressure on ourselves as women and as female mentors. This, like many other work place expectations for women, is unfeasible and frankly unachievable. Instead of attempting to be it all, hone in on that which you do have experience with – personal, professional, and where the two coincide. It is through sharing these successes, failures and challenges that you will make the most impact on your mentee, and also learn the most about the kind of perfection you have achieved.

People often ask me about my personal story, how I got into my profession and how I reached where I am now. Starting up my own business was a challenge of its own, and would not have been possible without support and guidance, not only from my close family and friends, but also from external inspiration and advice, which came from those individuals who provided mentoring. They were there not to shoot down my plans nor let them pass without questioning them, instead, through gentle and careful challenging and discussions, they helped me to reach where I am today.

I hope to continue their work, being a mentor wherever I can – whether this is for graduates, those who haven’t had formal education, or even those later in their career who seek advice.

I know that for me the journey is far from over, there is still a lot to learn in terms of the future of my business, and the role I play in it. I certainly hope that by fostering an inclusive and productive framework by which to mentor, we can support many more people through to their own success.

barbara-kasumuAbout the Author:

Barbara is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Elevation Networks (EN), an award-winning social enterprise that provides training and mentoring opportunities for talented young people by pairing them up with recruiters or supporting them in setting up their own business.

Barbara also runs Visible Women, a campaign to match young women and girls with female role models and mentors in male dominated industries.  The campaign has been featured in Real Business and Cosmopolitan magazine and on Twitter alone the #IamVisible hashtag reached 259,290 unique users and as a result VW was featured in The Independent as one of the top campaigns ‘tweeting for equality’.




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