Conexion, a non-profit organization with a mission to develop HispanicLatino leaders into strategic and innovative executives, is focused on the nexus between the rising HispanicLatino demographic and the sustainability of the U.S. economy. Conexion leverages a unique mentoring model to create a national network of exceptional leaders.
The importance of Conexion’s mission is highlighted by the fact that the pipeline of talent in the U.S. is shifting. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population accounted for over half the growth of the total population in the United States between 2000 and 2010.
Conexion was founded in 2005 by Phyllis Barajas, the organization’s Executive Director, to address the changing demographics and economic complexities the country faces. According to Barajas, if the HispanicLatino demographic succeeds, the country will succeed.
Barajas was a former Deputy Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education appointed by President Clinton, served as the first HispanicLatino Assistant Dean for Human Resources at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and is President of Barajas & Associates, an organizational, human resources, and diversity consulting firm.
Barajas said “Conexion is not just about HispanicLatinos. It’s about advancing organizations through diversity and inclusion. You can be diverse, but if all your diverse staff are in entry-level or non-management roles, that will have little impact.”
Some of the organizations with which Conexion works have workforces with fewer than 10 percent minority populations, but their businesses target diverse audiences. Clearly there is a business case to diversity in an organization. More companies are now looking to diversify their workforce and view Conexion as a good vehicle to implement those efforts.
Conexion selects HispanicLatino men and women at the mid-career level (10 plus years of business experience), with a demonstrated track record of performance in business and education, to go through a 10-month mentorship program.
The mentees are matched with experienced and accomplished mentors at the senior and Executive Vice President, C-suite or equivalent, Executive Director, or entrepreneur level from various business sectors. In most cases, mentees are paired with non-HispanicLatino executive mentors, whom can provide a different perspective. Conexion exposes executive mentors to a demographic they may not necessarily be familiar with, and the mentors also come away with a new perspective.
Conexion’s program focuses on 2 areas:
1) Building competencies necessary for the next phases of the mentee’s career advancement; and
2) Sponsorship, which includes providing mentees with committee and board appointments and other opportunities for high visibility.
Edward Melia, Managing Director at Exemplar Companies and Conexion Board Member, serves as a mentor for Conexion. Melia worked with a mentee that was at the mid-career level, very ambitious, highly educated, and a high performer, but he wasn’t moving up within his company and became very frustrated. To address that challenge, Melia spent time teaching his mentee about personal branding and how to position oneself in the workplace. As a result of those efforts, the mentee ended up being elevated within his organization three times.
Melia said “The organization would have been at a major loss had his mentee left the company. The organization would have lost diverse talent, and the cost can be significant when an employee leaves an organization due to what is involved - recruiting, training, and the internal and external relationships lost.”
Melia sees numerous business benefits to companies getting involved with Conexion. Diverse organizations are more competitive with more diverse ways of thinking, and diverse employees can bring diverse business connections to an organization. Additionally, employees that go through the Conexion program become more effective and productive in the workplace, and that affects the bottom line.
Conexion instills in the mentees it serves the importance of giving back to the community, becoming mentors themselves, and helping to bring more members of the Latin community to positions of leadership.
Barajas said “The work Conexion is doing is so important on many levels – connections are made that would not normally happen on their own.” Barajas has seen relationships come full circle, where past mentees are now serving on boards with their mentors.
Melia said “Conexion is helping to better position the economic future of our country. Anyone that has seen the census and doesn’t realize why advancing HispanicLatinos in the workplace is important is going to be missing out and at a competitive disadvantage.”
Businesses can support Conexion’s initiatives by getting their senior leadership involved as mentors, sponsoring a mentee within their company to go through the Conexion program, and by providing scholarships for HispanicLatinos whom may be working at a non-profit that have limited budgets for staff professional development. Conexion also provides consulting services for organizations and has plans to expand with its next location in New York.
Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors, is a member of the City Year and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, and is a Boston World Partnerships Connector. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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