Career Advice

The Power of Role Models: Calling All Non-Traditional Mentors

Aspiration is essential to growth. People who aspire tend to be changemakers; they not only have a vision and aim for it but also work hard toward their goals. Consequently, those who aspire are key to the success of any organization or cause; organizations should actively seek people who aspire to advance their causes. How do organizations attract aspiring talent? Quite often, role models provide the human blueprint for potential pathways to success. And although anyone can be a role model, shared affinities make a big difference.

I am a young Latina professional. Over the course of six years in the nonprofit sector, I never encountered a Latina in a leadership position. My only role models were non-Latino white men and a few white women. I could not see myself in any of their shoes, mostly because we were so different. They came from diverse backgrounds and had particular worldviews. A Latina or another minority woman in a leadership position might have persuaded me to stay longer and made me feel more empowered. She could have helped me see myself becoming a leader as well.

I think a young Latina woman who sees an executive board member, whose contributions inspire and command respect, will want to follow the board member’s footsteps. Although the younger Latina may see herself as having similar barriers to success, she may also perceive the same opportunities to build upon. Cultural, ethnic, and gender-related barriers are too easily accepted as part of one’s identity. One could assume that without role models, Latina women cannot become nonprofit leaders. How likely will a young Latina woman aspire to be a leader? It is true that role models come from various backgrounds and persuasions; what matters most, I think, is whether or not one can aspire to follow their footsteps. In my case, I would have loved to be mentored by someone with a similar background and who could understand where I professionally and what my potential was.

Nonprofits interested in diversity should focus on filling their executive boards with diverse role models with whom younger professionals can identify with—executive boards need to be as diverse as the talent they seek. Latinos, in particular, are an increasingly important segment of the population, so integrating their talents is essential. Prominent Latino leaders need to be on nonprofit executive boards because aspiring young Latino professionals need to identify with them and, in doing so, map pathways for the success of the next generation of leaders.

Author Bio:

 Cherise Tolbert works for, an award-winning diversity-focused job board that connects Hispanic and bilingual job seekers with employers throughout the Americas. Cherise specializes in social media and communications and has a master’s from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.