I grew up in a military family and was always exposed to diversity in my home life and community. In seventh grade, for the first time I enrolled in a school not associated with our military base. It was the school’s first year of racial integration in Virginia, and I was shocked to see and hear how so many families struggled to deal with it.
After graduating from college, I became a counselor for at-risk youth who had dropped out of high school. Seeing how exposure to the workplace and to mentors changed these students’ world view and helped them set their sights on greater goals and possibilities, I set my own course to work hard to help make more of these opportunities available and increase access and opportunities for those too often left behind. When I came to NAF, I knew I had found a place that really gets it, that was making big moves to create those opportunities, that understood that opportunity should not be a privilege, and that was preparing the next generation to be future ready starting in high school.
Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of NAF’s mission. As an organization focused on providing equity and access to educational opportunities that lead to a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline for employers, NAF bridges the gap between the education and business communities by providing high school students with an educational experience that prepares them for successful careers in growing industries. Through business support, NAF recently launched NAFTrack Certified Hiring, which is a promise by some of the nation’s top companies to provide special consideration to job applicants who earn NAF Certification in high school. Many of these companies provide paid internships to NAF students while they are still in high school. While some may think that high school interns could be a liability, NAF and our partner companies know that they are an asset and the secret to a diverse future workforce.
While NAF’s design can work in any high school setting, NAF specifically targets underserved and underrepresented communities where the need for access to pathways of success are the highest. This is where we believe we can make the most difference. NAF serves nearly 90,000 students a year in 716 academies in 36 states, Washington D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sixty-nine percent of students come from low-income families, 65% are black or Hispanic, and 45% are female.
In today’s growing industries, females and minorities remain underrepresented. Women are still fighting for equal pay. NAF is hoping to play a role in changing that. By encouraging females and minorities to join NAF academies and by motivating and preparing students to pursue careers in growing industries, we are doing our part to ensure a more diverse workforce in the near future.
It is essential for corporate America to invest in our students early on, as they are the future of our nation’s workforce. The power to create a diverse talent pipeline lies in the hands of the business community, and by having exclusive access to the next generation of future leaders, they can use their abilities and expertise to ensure that the demands of the global economy continue to be met for years to come. Most importantly, they will help all students – especially those who lack support and resources – realize their full potential and not be limited by their socioeconomic status. The partnership between education and business is a true testament to the fact that when both parties work together, we all succeed.
We hope you’ll join us in supporting NAF and creating a diverse and inclusive future workforce.
This blog is part of our Defining Moment series. At SAP, our higher purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. We are committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and moving #BusinessBeyondBias. To learn more about the future of diversity and inclusion, visit www.successfactors.com and watch this video to hear from other leaders on the topic.