Posted December 7, 2020 by Mark Perna
New to the world of finance, this Latina Gen-Z intern delivered something unique. Mark’s article, “Diversity Has Its Rewards. Just Ask This Multi-Billion Dollar Company,” published at Forbes.com on November 24, 2020.
At age 17, Destiny Fernandez thought she knew where her future profession was going. Her mom’s career as a nursing aide was what she was familiar with, and healthcare seemed to be the inevitable choice for Destiny as well.
Then she discovered the world of finance.
When First Workings visited her Career and Financial Management class, Destiny’s career choices expanded overnight. First Workings, a NYC-based nonprofit that trains and places high school students from underserved communities in paid internships at major companies, shared opportunities across a variety of industries: law, journalism, medicine, tech and more. But it was finance that caught Destiny’s attention.
“I became fascinated with experiencing an industry I wasn’t exposed to,” Destiny says. “Growing up in my environment, there are not a lot of opportunities. I wanted to take any chance I had to learn, grow and make connections.”
When the pandemic struck in March, First Workings’ internship program dovetailed into a virtual mentorship opportunity. Destiny found herself matched with Graham Clempson, Vice Chairman of MidOcean Partners, a multi-billion-dollar alternative asset manager.
Fast-forward a few weeks. From her kitchen table, Destiny is pitching her investment idea—a female-founded and owned hair accessories company for women of color—to a Zoom meeting packed with top-level executives. And she’s crushing it.
How did Destiny go from clueless to confident in just a few short weeks? Mentorship—and the unique perspective she brought as a Latina Gen-Z intern.
Destiny’s mentor Graham got his start thanks to a UK-based organization similar to First Workings. Through a charity program in his county, Graham attended Eton, one of the UK’s best-known private schools.
“It literally transformed my life in terms of access to opportunities,” Clempson says. When he was given the chance to mentor Destiny through the First Workings internship program, he didn’t hesitate.
According to The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 59% of employers upheld their offers to interns when the pandemic shook the business world. MidOcean Partners was one of them.How did Destiny go from clueless to confident in just a few short weeks? Mentorship—and the unique perspective she brought as a Latina Gen-Z intern. Click To Tweet
Graham and Destiny had standing Zoom meetings every week—she from her kitchen table, he from his home office. Graham worked to demystify the world of finance and build Destiny’s analytical and presentation skills. He also made the case for finance as a compelling career path for Destiny to pursue.
“It was a silver lining of the pandemic,” Destiny says. “I was given a lot of facetime with a senior executive at a premier company. I may not have had that level of interaction and guidance in a normal internship.”
Destiny and Graham pored over the firm’s investment portfolio. Destiny was tasked with researching companies to find one that presented a strong investment opportunity. When she found one, she couldn’t wait to share it.
In a matter of weeks, Destiny went from not knowing the first thing about the finance world to confidently presenting her investment proposal to top-level decision-makers at MidOcean Partners. And presenting was her idea.
From Destiny’s point of view, the private equity firm was missing out on an opportunity: investing in a middle-market company that caters specifically to women of color.
“As she was pitching, my phone was lighting up with text after text,” Clempson recalls. “My colleagues were pinging me about her idea and its concrete action steps. We quickly realized her idea was incredibly strong.
“She was using insight from her daily life that many of us did not have.”
Not only was the firm interested in the investment, but they wanted Destiny to start the dialogue with the hair accessories company personally. MidOcean rolled Destiny into their paid internship program, originally designed to introduce college-aged diversity candidates to the industry. She was the youngest intern by far.
Graham and his team supported Destiny in the next steps. She reached out to the hair accessories company CEO herself, who quickly responded to set up a meeting. The firm even kept Destiny on the payroll and extended her internship so she could stay involved as the partnership progressed.
“I never thought my mentor relationship would evolve into a paid internship,” Destiny says. “I thought I was learning about the business world and building social capital through networking. But then I saw how much real work I was doing and how my idea to invest in this company was so well received.
“Everything has changed for me now.”
After Destiny’s pitch, Clempson was approached by colleagues across the firm. From the investment department to the accounting team, everyone was overwhelmingly impressed with the confidence and capability displayed by a high school intern. To Clempson, the entire process demonstrated the power that diversity of thought and experience could bring to his company.
“I’m a strong believer that insight, creativity, and intelligence is not the exclusive preserve of people who completed a college education,” he says. “This unique investment idea that Destiny brought to MidOcean reflects that.”
As corporations battle for Gen-Zers to fill vacant positions, companies that start the pipeline to talent earlier have the advantage. Partnering with nonprofits like First Workings to uncover diverse talent is one new strategy to consider. As Destiny’s story demonstrates, diversity has its rewards—and reaching out to underprivileged students early in their educational cycle can produce insights and ideas that no one else is thinking of.
Engaging with these young people, nurturing their skills and gleaning the knowledge they draw from personal experience is an investment in the future. And businesses might just be surprised at the payoffs.Reaching out to underprivileged students early in their educational cycle can produce insights and ideas that no one else is thinking of. Click To Tweet