Alison Martin - Engage Mentoring
Michelle: Hi guys, welcome to From The Basement Up. As a business owner, one of the biggest pain points is a mishire, and even worse in a leadership position. You will find yourself questioning was it your leadership, lack of training, or was it just a bad fit? Regardless, it can be a painful experience for the employee and potentially harmful to your company. My next guest has created a program for companies to access diverse talent, and she's backed this up by strategic, simple, structured mentoring program. I would like to introduce you to Alison Martin, the creator of Engage Mentoring. Hi, Alison. Welcome to From The Basement Up, Alison. It's so great to have you here.
Emily: Hi, Alison. Welcome.
Michelle: So Alison, before we get into Engage Mentoring, I just wanted to also kind of ask you about your background. And then I would love to hear your elevator pitch for Engage Mentoring.
Alison Martin: Sure. Well, my background actually started in Higher Ed. So that was where I got my early start in my career. And then I went on to work for two different voluntary health organizations, and had the distinction of being the youngest executive director in the country at the time, when I was with the first organization. And at that point, my family and I moved to Indianapolis. And I share that because my background kind of evolved into me actually initially starting a nonprofit that had a mentoring focus. And when we were trying to design what that was going to look like, the desire to create a program. We researched a lot of software and curriculum and other resources to try to support that and didn't find exactly what we were looking for. And so actually set out at that point, back in 2012 was when our original software product rolled out, but actually created something from scratch to help facilitate the matches. So in the work that I do today, Engage Mentoring has both a software component and a really unique way of how we match and schedule and administer mentoring programs. But then our other program, that you referenced earlier, called Project Lead for Women is a platform for executives who are passionate about their own development and the development of others. And a way for them to sponsor employees in a community based program where the employees are participating as both mentor and mentee. And we allow college students to access the program as mentees by partnering with universities in specific geographies, or universities and colleges. And I love that program because it allows the participating companies, as you said, to access a diverse talent pipeline in a really unique way. But also for the employees participating, not just to build their skills as being a mentee, but actually learn what it feels like to pour into others as a mentor and really develop their leadership capacity even further. So, as you might guess, because of my background in nonprofit, I'm very passionate about community impact and what that really looks like. And this is a culmination of all of my passions around mentoring and those types of things into something that is so scalable and easy to administer. And we're able to work with companies of all sizes, not just the really massive companies who could invest in a software package.
Michelle: So that's great. And the Project Lead for Women, I'm very excited to get to that. But I also want to hear kind of more about you too. So I know you were in higher education, but this is a massive program that you've created and you've got major universities on board. You've even partnered or you're partnering with a local university or college, Siena College. So I'm just curious as far as, how did you get started for people out there starting a new business? Like, what was the seed that got this going?
Alison Martin: Well, I'm going to tell you a few things that I don't always tell people right away, but I think would resonate with your listening audience. Number one is I started really with an idea. I kind of stumbled upon a need, in sort of the early piece of wanting to do something specifically set around women that wasn't industry specific. And really had to fail my way forward in many regards in terms of the development of the program, how it's allocated, addressing pricing. And I'll tell you that I didn't get started in a way that I recommend, but I left a six figure job because I wanted to see what I could do. And I didn't really have a huge plan. I just thought, okay, I can give myself a year and see what I can do. And if it doesn't work out, I can always go back to doing the work that I did previously, because I happened to be pretty good at it. And so that was the premise and how I got started. And that was 11 years ago, I think at this point. And as you said we have developed some amazing partnerships. We work with amazing companies and universities. And I'll also share something again that I shared in... I actually wrote a book in 2013 and it was re- released in 2016 called Learning to Lead Through Mentoring. And it was a reflection on my own journey, and really intended to help readers reflect on their journeys, and help them create dialogue with prospective mentors on things like failure, and how do I overcome and how do I really develop grit? But I was actually out on my own when I was 16. I was legally emancipated at 17. And I became a single mom at 18. So my early start was very challenged and I wouldn't have had the career that I had, nor would I be standing here today if it weren't for incredible mentors who poured into me. And so it's funny how, in retrospect, you look at those things and you go, okay, it all makes sense. That the journey sort of makes a lot more sense, but it's definitely a deep passion of mine. And it's not, there's no, this didn't happen by accident. And so I'm just a huge believer in how you really can transform your life by connecting to the right people and really cultivating those relationships intentionally.
Michelle: So you were a young mom and starting out in the world. And I know I was a train wreck in my twenties. And I didn't have any reason to be. I really had like, I had everything and so my parents were helpful, had a college degree and I still couldn't figure things out. So hearing your start, you were, I mean, you had a lot of obstacles there that you had to overcome. So the fact that you're talking about grit, it is so important and I love how you seem to have immediately dived into the nonprofit world. And was that kind of your first venture into your career, was working with nonprofits?
Alison Martin: Well, it was, and it was every thing sort of happened, I don't want to say by accident, but you look back and you go, oh wow, it's interesting how life unfolds in ways you couldn't have anticipated. So I actually just got a job in sales because sales is generally what you can make money at, and not have to have the benefit of an education that I didn't have at the time. And so that led to me working at a proprietary school to really work with a population of mostly first generation college students to offer some proprietary programs that were designed to help people just move quickly from point A to point B and gain gainful employment. And I heard myself telling people that they needed to prioritize their education. And I realized that I needed to do that for myself. So I went ahead to enroll in a school that wasn't the school I worked for, but had the accreditation I was looking for, and the really great programming, and the flexible schedule that would allow me to also work because I was a single mom. And they offered me a job during the admissions process that also included tuition remission. So I was able to get my bachelor's degree while working in the admissions office, and being a single parent and kind of all that entailed. So by the time I graduated, I was married and pregnant with my daughter who came along when I was 24. I was 24 when I got my bachelor's degree. And so that was my first sort of by happenstance, I fell into working in higher ed. And that led to an opportunity with a voluntary health organization, that I absolutely loved, where I was able to draw on the skills that I learned in the higher ed piece. And what I loved most about that was the fact that, the transformation that you saw from when people came in the door to when they walked across the stage from a graduation perspective, that I got to experience myself. And so drawing on that, and it was a natural transition into the nonprofit space where you could see the impact of your work. And I've also kind of drawn on that even though I now don't work for a nonprofit. I work for a for- profit company, but we partner with a lot of nonprofits in a very impactful way. So rather than creating partnerships where there's some sort of financial reciprocity, we're partnering with universities to give opportunities to female college students. And what an amazing thing. And I think back to the younger version of myself and how a program like this really would've transformed just the ability to make connections. So if you don't have parents who can do that for you, how do you do that? How do you make connections? And so that's what I get most excited about is the implications that it has on both sides of the equation, both for the student, as well as for the employees and the employers who offer this program.
Michelle: Now I think that's a really good thing, that may have been my issue in my early twenties. Just not, I wasn't exposed to very much. So how do you know even coming out of school, like where do I go? What do I do? What's my next step. And Emily, you're actually kind of at that age where you're... Emily is actually getting her graduate degree.
Emily: Yeah, well I have a very different circumstance. I mean, I graduate, like I was abroad during COVID, sent home during COVID, graduated during COVID. And so I had like two years to kind of sit there and figure out what I wanted to do. But it, like I'm sitting here are listening to you and just the benefit of even creating that community of a network of women would've been, I like feel like I missed out a little bit, but it's okay. Because now I am creating a network of my own and it's out there, and it's going to be so great for, on all sides of the equation. I totally agree.
Alison Martin: Thank you. I appreciate that perspective as well. I have a daughter who's a sophomore in college right now-
Emily: That's a tough year.
Alison Martin: It is. And figuring out what you want to do and all of those things. And so it's nice that you had the benefit of that you to get some additional perspective too. And congrats on pursuing your graduate degree. That's awesome.
Emily: Yeah. Thank you.
Michelle: So does she give you, does your daughter give you feedback on networks that are available to young women? Do you hear about that from her?
Alison Martin: Not all, I mean, so she actually, I had her participate. So she interned for us last summer. And I got the benefit of participating in our mentoring program. My daughter actually participated, or she was an intern for us last year and she got to participate in the mentoring program. And she was just like, mom, this is so cool, in terms of the people that she was able to connect with. But she has, she's gotten the benefit of some really great resources at the school that she is a part of. And I think that we're doing a great job of teaching this next generation to be intentional about cultivating those relationships, how important a network is, and how to go about doing that. And I know that's been a message that I've been carrying forward to her. So there are a lot of great, I think, student organizations and resources. I think the uniqueness of what we offer for people to say, I want to work on my communication skills and connect to a mentor. Or I just need some perspective of what it's like to work in the healthcare industry, is a really great value and benefit for the students who are selected for what we call our Aspiring Leaders program.
Michelle: So I, because I have a list of questions for you, but as you're speaking, I would love to hear... So I'm a business owner and I let you know that I've really struggled hiring diversity in my company and it's important to me. But I can't seem, we live in a very white community and I don't get the applicants or the resumes. How do I do this? How do I diversify my employee base and open ourselves up? And I just want to make sure that when I'm doing this, I'm doing this very mindfully and I'm bringing in the right people. And I'm assuming that Engage Mentoring, you would find that. I just, I want to make sure I bring in someone who's going to want to be here and that succeeds in being here.
Alison Martin: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you highlighted a few important things. So I want to kind of talk through that because I'm certainly not the expert in all things diversity. I just know that access to relationships needs to be a critical part of that strategy, and also being intentional about where you're recruiting from. So a lot of times companies will... And I'm not saying yours is. And I also know that when you live in an area that demographic wise there isn't a ton of diversity, it does present a challenge. But I think that challenge becomes something that we have to be really intentional about. So things like, how are we sourcing talent? Where are we, how are we establishing partnerships with schools in the area, if we recruit from schools? How are we, or even if you can and if it's for higher level positions, intentionally selecting recruiting firms that have access to those networks is something that I know that we've done to really put some intentionality behind that. And then also just making sure you have an environment where people are going to feel supported and developed because I think the mistake that a lot of companies make is yeah, they change their recruiting tactics. They try to ensure that they're being intentional behind that and spinning their wheels trying to get diverse talent in the door. But then that piece of feeling supported, feeling developed, and having access to relationships really needs to be there. So just taking the perspective of being a female, because I identify as a female. When I go to a company from the outside looking in, I can tell if it's a place that's going to be very female friendly. You just know. And so that would apply to any diversity category. And so if you think about what it means to a prospective employee to say, we're very intentional with our efforts to ensure that all employees feel supported, feel developed, have access to relationships. And one of those pieces that's critical for us is having a mentoring program, which ensures that you're going to have access to the relationships that will help you grow within this organization. And it's one of our core values. And so I think just making sure that the inside matches the desire and the outside, and that you've got structures in place that allow people to really be intentional behind accessing relationships. Because absent that people tend to mentor and sponsor younger versions of themselves, and they tend to connect with other people who look like them and share similar values. And so that creates a very lonely experience for employees who check any other diversity category to be able to have that opportunity and access relationships. But if culturally you can address that and kind of make it an environment that embraces really everyone and gives them an opportunity, that's where I think the real key and that's where the real magic happens. And so we can help companies with that intentionality and the good news is we can do that for companies of all sizes, not just the really massive companies. So it really isn't, it isn't magic. It isn't rocket science. But I think you're on the right track just by calling it out and saying, hey, we really want to do this. And how do we change what we've been doing so that we can actually get some different results? Was that helpful?
Michelle: Yes, absolutely. And this is something that is on my list. I've been speaking to the admin, business admin staff, and it's something that when we're hiring, we need to be very aware of. And just for everybody here too. And we do our best, but we, I have failed in this area. And I've recognized it and I'm just trying to figure out how to do a better job. But I do want to also have you go into Engage Mentoring, and then also the Project Lead for Women and kind of explain the difference between the two.
Alison Martin: Sure. So Engage Mentoring, at our core, we have a software and curriculum that allows employers to offer a way for employees to access training and development on topics of their choosing with mentors. And so we work with a wide variety of clients and associations in that area to help them create community through mentoring, with utilizing our resources. Project Lead for Women is actually more of a geographically based program that allows us to work with employers within specific geographic areas, starting with executive women who are again passionate about development for themselves, as well as the development of others. And give them an outlet to be part of an executive program where they are in a kind of a peer mentoring type of opportunity and collaborating with other executive women in their community. And then they typically are decision makers within their company to identify employees who would be candidates for either what's called our Developing Leaders program, which is open to high potential leaders as well as existing leaders. Or our Project Lead for Women program, which again is, it resonates typically with women who are passionate about developing themselves and others. And we deploy a communication to employees to opt into one of those two programs. And the best part of the program is that for every employee who's sponsored in the program, we're able to sponsor a female college student at no cost to the student and no cost to the educational institution that we partner with. So that's why it's more geographically based. You mentioned Siena earlier, and so we're finalizing our partnership there. And we chose that organization, most of the institutions that we work with, because a lot of their students do elect to stay in the area. So it's a great student population for employers to really connect with. And they have just for really embraced this idea and this opportunity to really specifically help their female students there. So the executives who invest in this program for their employees can, they really benefit by knowing that it's impacting the community that they live and work, and helping their employer to also access a really incredible talent pipeline as well.
Michelle: Nice. So you did mention that there's a software with Engage Mentoring. Can you explain what the software does and is it kind of a blueprint I guess, for you to move forward?
Alison Martin: Yeah, so I can, I don't know if you want me to show it, but I can tell you. Yes. Sure. So our software itself allows participants to come in and upload a photo, share some basic directory information, and validate their time zone, and also the topics that they would be potentially willing to mentor others on. So we have more than 50 different leadership focused topics that are aimed at either personal growth or skill development. So things like communication skills or executive presence or public speaking skills. And so all participants do an initial assessment where they identify the skills that they would be willing to reflect on with others. And then they go in and once they've created their profile, they can select mentors based on the skills they want to work on. And then to take advantage of some supplemental learning on those topics as well. So we have a very robust learning library that allows me to say, I want to work with Michelle on public speaking. And then I'm also going to take advantage of supplemental content to really learn. Because what a powerful way to shortcut your learning by working with a mentor, and an amazing way for us to meet people where they are. Because every individual is different in terms of what their needs are, based on what their goals are, as well as what their position they're currently occupying. So the software facilitates those matches and the design of it is that, each quarter, participants select a topic. They select a mentor to work with them on that topic. And then they take advantage of supplemental learning. So in 12 months they're able to connect with up to four different mentors on topics of their choosing. And ideally they make themselves available to others, including college students, on topics where they have experience, which sounds philanthropic. But what we're doing is encouraging people, not just to see themselves as mentees, but also as mentors. And I would argue, we actually are developing leadership capacity more in that realm because there's no better way to learn how to be a leader than to learn how to mentor and pour into others. So it's a really well rounded approach to leadership development that also impacts the communities that people live and work in.
Michelle: So this is tremendous. I don't think I've ever heard of this before. Are you the only one out there doing this?
Alison Martin: Good question. So we're actually talking to leadership firms right now, and there are some community based mentoring programs that we've seen, but not that's executed in the way that I'm describing. And like I said, it was a, there was a whole lot of twists and turns to get to where we are today, but we've landed on something that is really gaining traction and just really exciting. And people are coming out of the woodwork to support. And even the outlet of the executives connecting with one another has just been so well received because I'm a business owner, you're a business owner. How often do we have that ability to do that, intentionally, with other key executives or business owners in our communities. And so that part has really been tremendous as well.
Michelle: Absolutely. I mean, this is fantastic. I-
Emily: So, oops. I had a question just about at the beginning ending, you said that like what led you to this was you saw a need. And I was wondering what the need was? Like specifically that led you here.
Alison Martin: Good question. So, as I mentioned earlier, I was, I worked, I got my early start at nonprofit and I worked for a voluntary health organization where at the age of 29, I was the executive director and I had 34 staff and a 23 member board of directors and access to every... It sounds like I'm bragging and I'm not trying to, but every CEO in town was involved in this large voluntary health organization. I thought, gosh, if more women my age had access to this level of perspective, what an amazing place it would be. So that was sort of the first impetus of, gosh, I have friends who are my peer age group that could really benefit from us. And then I'm also finding that I'm building relationships with people who are significantly older because of the circles that I run in being an executive director. And I thought, wouldn't it be amazing if I could bring those two worlds together? And so it was later that that spark turned into me pulling together a room that had a friend of mine who was 22 years old at the time and a Pilates instructor and the CEO of a major hospital in town. And we had 12 different people with so many diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and thought, gosh, what can we create here? And so that was the beginning of that journey. And as the more I've talked to, particularly other women, where you're sharing stories about how things happen in the workplace, and situations we've experienced, and that sort of thing, that need for connectivity has always been there. And so I think that, not to say that men don't need mentoring or that women don't need male perspective, that's not it, but that connectivity piece is always rang true. And I think we all recognize that it's important to have a variety of different perspectives where mentoring is concerned. But just for sheer numbers, having access to really great female leaders who can give that perspective of is just tremendous as you're growing up. So that's when I discovered that we stumbled upon a need, just by virtue of how quickly that program itself grew and how quickly the Project Lead for Women program is growing as well. It's pretty evident that it's needed. So, and then, I mean, even right now, the number of women that are presumably leaving the workplace as a result of the past few years in the pandemic, and we could talk all day long about why we think that might be, but it's alarming. And I think organizations are starting to take notice. And that's why the timeliness of this program is really worth noting as well. Thanks for asking that question, Emily.
Emily: Yeah, no problem.
Michelle: So you're based in Indiana and how many states are you out like, because I can see this catching fire and going nationwide. So how many states do you find that your program is now operating in?
Alison Martin: So wonderful question. So we are, the company is based in Indianapolis and we have had a really great partnership, both with the Commission for Higher Ed there as well as the Indiana State Chamber. And so we've learned a lot about how we go to a market, and how we establish partnerships, and what that looks like, and programmatically what we offer. So we're now at a stage where we've brokered partnerships with schools in your area, as well as Florida and Houston and St. Louis. And so I actually love building relationships and going into different cities. And so as we scale this program, I'm actually going to those cities that I mentioned earlier, and well, in the case of your area too, we've hired Alauren, who's a market director. We've contracted with her to help lead that area as the market share for that area, and she's been amazing at brokering conversations. All that to say that we could go anywhere with this. So as you said, the opportunities really are endless. But foundationally, if we can establish a university partnership and we have at least five corporate partners in the area, that's when we'll typically launch in an area and be able to sort of hire someone to keep things going. So in the next couple years, I'll be actually physically going into some of those places to be able to build local relationships with executives like yourself. To say, to paint the picture of what we're trying to create and kind of gain their support. The best part of it is people know who else they want to be around the table and associated with. So it's been great because people are like, oh, have you talked to this person, have you talked to that person. And there's a lot of excitement there. So it's exciting for me to be in a position to be able to do that. And also for the company to just ensure we have a really great foundation as we're hiring people to manage specific areas. So those areas I mentioned are the ones that are next on the horizon and then we're going to continue, probably at a pace of one every two months.
Michelle: That's fantastic. As far as I would love to hear, if you wouldn't mind, sharing a couple of stories that are kind of near and dear to your heart. A couple of success stories. If you don't mind having one or two that you wouldn't mind sharing with the listeners.
Alison Martin: I'm trying to think. So the ones that have been shared with me or the ones that I've experienced myself. Because I have been a mentor in the program myself and I have learned, as you might expect, I have learned so much from the people that I've gotten to work with. Right now I'm working with a gentleman who is in Canada. So his company is actually headquartered in Canada, but they have a campus here. And they were the ones that authored the partnership and I'm working with him on being a new manager. So he's anticipating what being a new manager will feel like. And kind of, we're talking through some of the things that he would want to shore up in terms of being ready for that opportunity. And it's just neat because we don't have a program where everyone in one diversity category is mentoring other, it's people are going in selecting topics and selecting mentors to work with them on that topic. I had another interesting, so a chief diversity officer at a company that we work with had shared that someone had reached out to her that was trans. And they developed a relationship on the basis of the topic that this person wanted to learn more about. And they told her the reason they selected her was because she had the pronouns after her name and they thought that meant that she would be safe. And I love hearing the stories because it really is transformative in terms of being able to connect with people who can offer perspective. And we have such an amazing community of people who really do care and we're training people on how to be mentors. We're really ensuring that that happens.
Michelle: Alison, thank you for joining us. And one of the big things and the reasons why I really wanted to speak to you is I am always looking for people who are helping others, and doing good in the community, wanting to raise the bar for everyone and encourage people. You do that in spades. And I wanted to thank you. And I encourage everybody to look at Engage Mentoring for your business. Look at Project Lead for Women. And see what's going on in the universities out there, and see if this is something that your business and, or if you work for a university, would want to get involved in and reach out to Alison Martin. So Alison, thank you so much for being here on From The Basement Up today. It has been such a joy to speak to you.
Emily: Thank you so much for joining us today on From The Basement Up. Please be sure to check namebubbles.com for our blog on the podcast and all of the show notes, resources, and links for our guests every Thursday. And please be sure to leave us a five star review wherever you get your podcast. See you next week. And thank you.
In today's episode of From the Basement Up, we are joined by Alison Martin of Engage Mentoring. Based in Indianapolis, this mentoring group seeks out businesses, universities, or people looking to expand their network and expand their skillset. Listeners will get a glimpse of a beautiful connected world that supports one another, all created by today’s wonderful guests.
Engage Mentoring provides a leadership program for companies and individuals to access mentoring on topics of their choosing while impacting the next generation of talent by providing a mentoring program to college students through partnerships with nonprofits and universities. In learning through this mentoring program, mentees are offered the ability to learn about new topics they may have previously had an interest in, or maybe had never heard of. Within the span of months, professionals can grow their interest base and become experts in new areas of their abilities.
Engage Mentoring provides a leadership program for companies and individuals to access mentoring on topics of their choosing while impacting the next generation of talent by providing a mentoring program to college students through partnerships with nonprofits and universities.
Digital Strategy in the mentoring world has been pretty untouched. With the blueprints Engage Mentoring creates, a digital strategy can be used to advance each of us in our personal endeavors! This program has shaped the networks, strategies, and learning opportunities of many groups of women and people, and will continue to do so!
Alison Martin is the Founder and CEO of Engage Mentoring, a software-enabled leadership development program that helps companies attract, retain, and develop their talent through strategic mentoring initiatives. With impressive background work and roughly 20 years in nonprofit, beginning with four years working in higher education and on to Executive Director at two different health-related nonprofit organizations, Alison’s passion for developing talent led her to start a consulting firm in 2011. Her work consulting with large associations, nonprofits, and companies to construct mentoring programs led to the development of Engage Mentoring in 2019.
Allison also founded the Project Lead for Women program. Project Lead for Women was developed to provide mentoring for women at all stages of their careers and its vision is to build the largest and most effective professional mentoring program for women in the nation. She has two children and volunteers for Girls Inc and serves on the board for Purposeful Women Inc, a nonprofit that provides coaching, mentoring, and support for women. She was nominated for Indianapolis Best and Brightest in 2013 and was recognized with the Indiana Commission for Women’s Torchbearer award in 2014. She is the author of the book, “Learning to Lead Through Mentoring”, published first in 2013 and re-released in 2016, which outlines the 8 lessons one must consider before pursuing a mentoring relationship.