Think about your own career path. How much of it entailed luck and good fortune?
My own life and career is full of moments of serendipity — times when a person I met, choice I made, or an opportunity presented to me put me on a path to success. This journey ultimately led me to become chief opportunity officer at Guild, a company focused on bridging the gap between education and employment by helping millions of Americans gain skills and support they need to advance their careers.
In this role, I like to think of my work as trying to figure out how we can package serendipity. There are millions of American workers who can’t rely on luck to have a fair shot at opportunity. So, what can we as leaders, and the organizations we work for do to make what we think of as luck or good fortune re-creatable and repeatable? The answer: Create a culture of opportunity.
Establishing a culture of opportunity shows employees that you are invested in their career advancement. It provides workers with a realistic vision for a financially stable future — and a truer sense of possibility.
For organizations, a culture of opportunity projects your values and sends a signal to talent that you are truly invested in career advancement. It also dramatically improves your ability to attract, retain and grow talent in a changing world.
Here are five ways organizations and leaders can build a culture of opportunity:
- Design for the marginalized: General Catalyst chairman and former American Express CEO Ken Chenault said recently, “meritocracy is important but so is understanding where it falls short.” With only 42 percent of frontline workers seeing their company’s DEI efforts as effective, it’s clear we’re falling short. We need to double down on fundamentals such as equitable and transparent recruiting, hiring, pay, performance practices and related policies. And ensure that all voices and perspectives are heard and valued through dedicated space for people to ask questions and, in the right forum, challenge the status quo. Another key component is DEIB training and crucially skills-based hiring for any role that doesn’t require a certification by law.
- Secure the foundation: No one can achieve their best — for themselves or for your organization — without a baseline of support. Paying at least a living wage, health care access, childcare support, transportation support and more are critical. Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada once put this succinctly — good dental care doesn’t make you a good student, but if your tooth hurts it’s hard to be a good student. Organizations need to think about this concept for their workforce.
- Unlock learning: My lived experience is that learning is a bedrock for opportunity. And if organizations are serious about growing and creating cultures of opportunity, they must embed learning into every aspect of their work. Invest in your workforce through education, upskilling and training with dedicated budget toward future-oriented skills and programs; and by making sure the supports they provide enable that learning; and by building a culture where iteration and adding new skills is cultural, not situational. One of the sensations we’re all feeling right now is rapid change — AI, automation, global unrest, etc. One way to emerge with a focus on progress is learning.
- Cultivate connection: Simply put, let’s say the thing out loud that we all know: professional and social capital create opportunity and open doors. Great organizations will create space for mentors, sponsors and coaching to create awareness, access and advice — both inside and outside of their companies. Sponsorship and coaching changed my life.
- Pave the pathways: The adage you can’t be what you can’t see is real. For people to move forward, they must know the path, and get access to the playbook on how to follow that path. When employees take advantage of programs and support systems that enable career mobility, they are more prepared to seek out and attain opportunities that are aligned with their unique skills and the needs of your business.
These steps aren’t all easy (nor done in a day), but they’re necessary. Our country was built on the premise of opportunity — and our businesses and leadership will only succeed by centering our approach on providing it.