Alumna Builds Networking Platform to Create More Equitable Future for Underrepresented Communities
Ja’Mara Washington ‘16MBA built her own social enterprise – GreenwoodX, which is designed to help connect students and professionals regardless of race or creed.
According to McKinsey & Company, about 1 in 5 C-suite executives is a woman—and only 1 in 25 C-suite executives is a woman of color. The Center for Talent Innovation also reports that 10 percent of college graduates in America are Black, but there are only four Black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.
The corporate “glass ceiling” or “concrete wall” is a societal issue Ja’Mara Washington ‘16MBA has known about for some time, and while she is well along in her career as a Security Marketing Project Manager at Cisco Systems, she felt the need to push the boundaries by starting her own social enterprise.
Ja’Mara is the Co-founder and COO of Greenwoodx, an organization aimed at leveling the playing field for students and professionals in underrepresented communities.
A myriad of factors goes into what keeps women and minorities from advancing, including unconscious bias in promoting, outdated hiring practices, and lack of access to create connections to receive a promotion.
“Greenwoodx came from a problem we experienced and could identify with,” explained Washington. “We were doing a lot of work with underrepresented professionals and students and kept hearing the same thing in our networks. ‘I’m trying my hardest, but I don’t feel like I have the right resources, connections or support to reach my goal. I’m hitting a lot of roadblocks.’ We created Greenwoodx as a solution to decrease these barriers.”
In a society with more ways to connect than ever before, Washington and her co-founder decided to solve the problem by introducing people via 1:1 video calls on the Greenwoodx platform.
“It’s a streamlined process to build meaningful relationships,” she says. “Members pick a career they are interested in, a date and time they want to talk, and then Greenwoodx matches them to a professional who is also available to speak about that career at that specific time. We completely take the initial barriers out of networking by making warm introductions to relevant professionals on your own time.”
Although the idea for Greenwoodx came before COVID-19, the pandemic escalated the need to create better opportunities for networking online.
Recently launched in July 2020, the Greenwoodx website already shows 460 students and 430 professionals signed up to make connections.
Forging Balanced Conversations
Washington doesn’t refer to Greenwoodx as a mentorship program.
“In mentorship programs, there is a defined hierarchy between the mentor and the mentee,” she said.
She wants to avoid situations in which members feel the need to come with pre-defined questions, attend required ‘check-ins’ for an extended period of time and feel like the other person is more of a boss figure than a genuine connection.
“Sometimes you just want to talk with someone about topics that interest you or experiences you are having – opening up the opportunity for ideas to flow, partnerships, friendships or mentorships to form, and career opportunities to surface,” said Washington.
Creating a Social Enterprise
While Ja’Mara Washington doesn’t have a background in social enterprise, having primarily focused on human resource and project management thus far in her career, her Crummer connections helped her foray in developing Greenwoodx.
“Staying connected with Dr. Conway Dato-on has been vital in building our social enterprise,” said Washington.
Washington said she reached out to Dr. Conway Dato-on, George D. & Harriet W. Cornell Professor of International Business and Social Entrepreneurship, and told her she was interested in starting a social enterprise.
“I didn’t know anyone more fitting to give me advice, and she explored ideas, proposed solutions to our current roadblocks, and overall provided valuable gems for starting Greenwoodx,” said Washington. “She also drove introductions to the Crummer network and helped share our mission. I’m truly grateful for our relationship and the energy she invests in the community.”
Dr. Conway Dato-on says her and Washington’s connection is the embodiment of what the Crummer experience is about.
“I was so honored when Ja’Mara reached out to me. It was wonderful to connect and get an update on her life. When I heard about the direction her passion and experience has taken since graduation, the ideas started flowing,” said Dr. Conway Dato-on. “Brainstorming and sharing resources for Greenwoodx truly reminded me of ways our Crummer experience creates opportunities for excellence. Ja’Mara’s drive energizes me to continue sharing stories and building connections to build a better tomorrow.”
Washington says anyone interested can get involved by signing up on the Greenwoodx website and sharing their time and experiences with goal-oriented professionals and underrepresented students.
“85 percent of all jobs come from your network,” said Washington. “That is why we created Greenwoodx, because having access to the right people and resources is vital for career success. We aim to restructure the networking experience around community – starting with impactful conversations and meaningful relationships.”