Helen Young Hayes is unique is so many ways, but what she shares in common with the the other 2020 GlobalMindED Inclusive Leader Award winners is her desire to give back to others with the advantages her hard work created in her own life.
Generous leadership is at the core of inclusive leadership and Helen is the determined embodiment of those qualities. She knows that others who grew up without resources can ascend to great jobs, earnings, leadership and the awesome gift and responsibility of providing the same for others.
As the daughter of Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. on borrowed money and full scholarships, Helen Young Hayes is a passionate believer in the American dream. She knows all about humble beginnings, something she experienced in a small college town in Mississippi while watching her parents embrace the opportunities found uniquely in America. Both of her parents obtained PhDs, leading the way for Helen to graduate from Yale University and launch a groundbreaking career as a leading global money manager.
However, growing up in the segregated South, she saw firsthand the social and economic inequities in her hometown. “It left a profound mark on me,” she said. “My husband and I decided to make an enduring commitment to serving people in poverty.”
In 1989, Helen survived the crash-landing of United Flight 232, a DC-10 airliner that suffered total hydraulic failure in mid-air, resulting in 112 casualties. Helen credits this death-defying, life-defining experience with giving her a clearer sense of her life’s vision, calling and purpose.
She is the mother of five, and the Founder and CEO of Activate, which puts low income and marginalized populations to work in the IT, healthcare and business sectors. Among her success stories are formerly incarcerated, homeless, and otherwise struggling hidden workplace talent whom her organization coaches, resources, and connects to upwardly mobile employment. She also created ActivateIT, a tuition-free technology training and professional development program to individuals from diverse Denver communities. ActivateIT offers students the ability to earn industry-recognized credentials for in-demand roles such as network and security administration, IT security, data engineering, Salesforce administration, and quality assurance. While the IT industry has traditionally struggled to recruit women and minorities, ActivateIT is drawing a more diverse mix of applicants: 23% are women, and 72% are minorities.
This year, she conceived of and launched the Colorado Inclusive Economy Movement, a business-led movement of CEOs who have the vision and grit to rebuild Colorado’s economy in a way that works for all, after noting the COVID-19 pandemic deepened and exposed concentrated poverty and inequities. The Movement is one of racial justice and equity, as companies individually pledge to build more racially diverse and inclusive workplaces and to invest in developing diverse talent pipelines through reskilling, upskilling and “newskilling”. The Inclusive Economy is a call to long-term action and accountability.
Helen’s work is changing perspectives and showing employers that extending opportunities to a nontraditional talent pool can not only diversify their ranks but improve the bottom line.
Here are Helen’s acceptance remarks/Call to Action, from the Inclusive Leader Award Event:
What the nonprofit sector must commit to is:
- Relentless forward movement to building organizations AND ecosystems of shared prosperity. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and will require all of us, in every sector, to fight for equity.
- We must develop more alternative pathways to employment, not just 4-year degrees.
- To build multicultural workforces, we must change our workplaces from the inside-out, the top-down and the bottom-up. We must address both the internal heart of our cultures as well as the external tactics of our organizations.
- First, we build cultures of inclusivity by understanding where privilege and bias reside in our organizations and by dismantling those systems and rebuilding to become places of belonging.
- We also must develop innovative recruiting and hiring practices that screen people in, not out. Specifically, we must focus more on an individual’s future potential and less on their past.
- We need better mentoring, better talent development, and better career pathing for our diverse employees.
- We must move away from pay-to-play board roles that are only for large donors. Instead, we must recruit directors based on their transferrable skills, expertise and potential, rather than simply their checkbooks.
- Lastly, we need a long-term view. If we want to address systemic inequity, we need to dream audacious dreams and work tirelessly to build the communities that today exist only in our dreams.
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Activate places candidates in full-time careers across multiple industries, including technology, health care, business services, financial, and special skills and apprenticeships. Learn more about hiring Activate candidates here.