Mentoring a Colorful Corporate America

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Howard University senior Tiffany Newell says she’s come a long way since first becoming a protégé of NextGen Network Inc. (NGN). Although she’s always been a high achiever, her NextGen mentor has pushed her to excel in her career, the aspiring financial analyst says. She recalls how her mentor coached her for interviews, explained many of corporate America’s unwritten rules and helped her make sense of several disturbing events that she felt resulted from racial discrimination.

“My mentor challenged me to grow and stretch to the point that I even succeeded at a job internship that made me miserable,” says Newell.

Her success is not surprising. According to a 1998 Korn/Ferry International study, “Diversity in the Executive Suite: Creating Successful Career Paths and Strategies,” career mentoring and support are key factors in helping to place minority executives on the organizational fast track. And in their book, Cracking the Corporate Code: The Revealing Success Stories of 32 African-American Executives, authors Price M. Cobbs and Judith L. Turncock discovered a direct correlation between having mentors and increased occurrences of job growth, promotions and salary increases.

Newell’s mentor and NGN president Sekou Kaalund states that mentoring African-American executives is fundamental to NGN’s mission: preparing the next generation of African-American business leaders. “Our efforts have both social and economic implications,” he says. “Diversity is America’s saving grace in this increasingly competitive marketplace, and organizations like NGN are necessary to cultivate competent minorities who are often overlooked or sidelined by nonminority senior leaders.”

NGN touts itself as a world-class organization comprising “the best and brightest African-American midlevel business leaders in corporate America” and boasts an impressive roster of members from Fortune 500 companies. The organization offers its members professional and career development activities, peer-to-peer mentoring and a wide variety of networking opportunities. In addition, members benefit from NGN’s affiliate relationship with the Executive Leadership Council (ELC).

“Few other organizations afford individuals, especially minorities, exposure and access to the most powerful leaders in corporate America,” says Kaalund, who is a 2006 Network Journal “40 Under-Forty Black Achievers” honoree.

The ELC, the nation’s premiere leadership network, was founded by 19 African-American corporate executives who wanted to create a forum that fostered a direction for achieving excellence in corporate business. However, says NGN and ELC board member Jessica Isaacs, creating such a forum was not enough for the ELC, which now boasts more than 400 members representing 200 companies. The group wanted to do more for younger corporate colleagues.

“It was great watching African-Americans obtain middle management positions, but we knew that getting there was only the first step and that it was a long way from the C-suite to the corner office,” says Isaacs. “We saw our opportunity to help these professionals navigate that tumultuous trek.”

The ELC supports minority business leaders by making the business case for diversity, showcasing inclusive minority leadership models, facilitating forums and symposiums for continued discussion on the subject of minority leadership, and providing mentoring to ELC and NGN members. Both organizations recently celebrated former NGN president Susan Chapman’s move to the ELC earlier this year following her promotion to global head of operations at Citigroup Realty Services.

Kaalund says, “Members like Susan and college [protégés] like Tiffany serve as the best living, breathing, tangible testament to NGN and ELC’s success.”
Kaalund, who became president of NGN in January, says he looks forward to adding members to the organization, developing new corporate sponsorships and organizing the first NextGen Network Inc. Youth Leadership Summit during his tenure. For information on NGN, or how to become a member, log onto www.nextgennetwork.com.