The opportunity Gap — and why we all have a responsibility to close it

By Jessica Huie MBE

We do not all begin at the starting line in life, that’s a fact.

The conversation about the disparities between us, the invisible privileges and unconscious bias head-starts which have played a large part in stemming the flow of people able to enter, excel and thrive in the workplace, are now a daily feature on the news agenda.

That’s a good thing because we are finally beginning to venture into uncomfortable yet necessary terrain, picking apart why we behave the way we behave with a far more questioning eye than ever before.

Discussion is all well and good as long as it is followed by action, and so on National Mentoring Day last month, we introduced Connect Mentors into the world. An intelligent online mentoring platform which matches progressive businesses with marginalised talent. The response has been welcome.

Smart businesses recognise that the world is changing and will continue to evolve beyond recognition. If companies are going to continue to appeal to our young, ambitious #Workfromanywhere generation who are committed in their beliefs about company ethics and culture, they must listen to understand and take steps to adapt their culture to meet a changing world. If they don’t attract and retain talent, we already know they face a people crisis which has been labelled a ‘talent gap.’ This is baloney of course. We have more than enough people, the gap which needs addressing is one of opportunity, which is where Connect Mentors comes in.

There are almost 700,000 unfilled job vacancies in the UK and without action that figure will become over 3 million by 2050, only worrying news if we continue to fish from the same increasingly barren ponds.

As a distracted teenager, at seventeen I found myself washing hair in a local west london salon. I had no desire to be a hairdresser, but had dropped out of college intent on earning my own money so that I might have independence from my family. My parents were dismayed. As a junior in the salon we had to make small talk with the clients, and on one particular day when I managed to avoid splashing water over my client’s face, I began speaking to an immaculately dressed customer. She said I was intelligent and should not be washing hair, and invited me to her office in Holland Park. Figuring that an office job had to be better than sweeping hair and cleaning skirting boards, I rocked up to her office the following week where I was shown how to answer the phone. “Connie Filippello Publicity how can I help” was the greeting… my first day as an office junior for the Publicist to the stars (Mariah Carey, George Michael) had begun, and my magical break into the media which I would later return to as a young, desperately ambitious mum, had presented itself.

If I hadn’t accepted Connie’s invitation to her office, I might never have discovered what Public Relations was, let alone have secured a job and later have crafted a great living from PR. I thought I was just going to upgrade my job so that I could stop sweeping up hair — I never could have predicted that I was about to walk through a doorway into my career for the next twenty years. It took one individual seeing a spark in me which she ignited. Connie opened a door, and then it was down to me to display the work ethic and talent to walk through it. That first informal experience of mentoring changed my life, and I am proud of the value that I have been able to bring to not just my clients but the industry itself as a result of that opportunity.

Our mission goes beyond just matching business mentors with talent from new pools, though the benefits of a diverse team such as access to new audiences, unlocked insights, enhanced creativity and fresh perspectives are a given. None of us know what we don’t know, and the only way we can be truly progressive and retain a competitive edge, is by continually expanding our knowledge base. We need new insights from new people to achieve this — and we actually have to listen to them.

Our vision is grand. We want to change the way society views talent. We want to dispel the idea that the ‘best’ candidates come only from the Russell Group universities. We want to cast a spotlight on the huge value an individual 55+ reentering the workplace can have for a business. We want to open minds and shift perceptions by matching the unacquainted, and create a space for business to diversify and prosper off the back of human connection.

Tech for good at its best and we are excited.

For further information or to join Connect Mentors see www.ConnectMentors.com

Aerate is a social enterprise that creates and develops scaleable concepts that connect and support people through online platforms and applications.