e048. Economic Development with Janessa Mondestin

Janessa Mondestin (she/her) is the Director of Nonprofit Talent Advisory of InTulsa. inTulsa brings together the collective power of people and business to develop, support, and share the growth of innovation and opportunity, home to a flourishing community of creative nonprofit entrepreneurs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.. InTulsa has 20 employees based in Tulsa, and 10 more employees across the U.S.

Including You Interview with Janessa Mondestin

Full Interview Transcript

Janessa Mondestin [00:00:00]:


Voiceover Announcer [00:00:02]:

This is Including You, the new series from Lead at Any Level, Including You features stories from chief diversity officers and other executives who are creating inclusive cultures in their organizations. Our goal is to show what’s working in companies just like yours to give you the tools you need to keep pushing for progress in your own workplace. We want to create belonging and opportunity for everyone, including you. And now, here’s your host, Amy C. Wantinger.

Amy Waninger [00:00:35]:

Welcome back to including you. I’m your host, Amy. C Waninger, the inclusion catalyst. My guest this week is Janessa Mondestin. She is the director of nonprofit talent advisory of in Tulsa. In Tulsa brings together the collective power of people and business to develop, support, and share the growth of innovation and opportunity. It’s home to a flourishing community of creative nonprofit entrepreneurs in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Excuse me. Tulsa, Oklahoma. In Tulsa employs about 20 people in Tulsa and about ten more nationwide. Janessa, welcome to the show.

Janessa Mondestin [00:01:09]:

Thank you. I know that’s a tongue twister with the Intelsa and in Tulsa. Yes.

Amy Waninger [00:01:15]:

And I am not classically trained as a speaker, so I speak a lot, but I don’t read teleprompters very well, clearly. So welcome to the show. I’m so glad to have you here. We’ve had a lot of folks from different sectors of the economy, different industries, but not a lot of folks from nonprofit spaces. And so this is going to be a lot of fun for me and I hope, for my listeners as well. Can you tell me a little bit about why inclusion is such an important focus at In Tulsa?

Janessa Mondestin [00:01:44]:

Absolutely. So Tulsa as a city, has experienced quite an economic boon over the last four years. And as we continue to look at economic boons going on with tech sectors and nonprofit sectors alike, what we want to make sure that we do is that we are providing opportunities not to folks who are just from the coast coming to Tulsa, but also for people who are native to Tulsa, that the folks who are in different communities of Tulsa are also experiencing the same kind of shift in renaissance economically, socially, as well as folks who have transplanted from other parts of the country to Tulsa. So the inclusion aspect of it inside of an organization, it’s to really mirror the needs of the community. If we’re not serving the people who we are saying that we’re mission aligned for, then we’re really doing ourselves a disservice as an organization.

Amy Waninger [00:02:37]:

I think it’s really important that people recognize exactly what you just said, that when you’re in a community, you need to reflect the values and interests and demographics of the community that you’re in if you want to stay relevant. Can you talk a little bit about how you’re doing that? What’s moving the needle for you?

Janessa Mondestin [00:02:55]:

Yeah. So my little expertise is looking at talent strategy and hiring strategy, and so when we’re looking at trying to emerge, a tech capital or a new kind of knowledge economy here in Tulsa, which has been dominated by oil and gas and energy. A bit about cybersecurity and healthcare. As we’re trying to diversify the industries here so that folks never need to leave Tulsa to find work, we want to make sure that the communities that we have are folks who are going to be part of the new version, the new story of Tulsa. So we want to look at workforce development, economic development. How do we bring everyone along so that they’re part of the journey and not excluded from the story? So about four years ago, five years ago, going on into 2023, I’m part of an organization called George Kaiser Family Foundation. And their mission was, how do we advance the intellectual capital of Tulsans and find ways that they can compete? And if they are already competitive, they don’t need to leave the state or the city for it. And we started looking at stats and data and saw that so many college graduates were leaving Tulsa to go to work in San Francisco, find work in Austin, head over to the very next state in Bettenville, Arkansas. Since there’s like Walmart and Philips and Family Foundation there, how can we attract and retain that diversity and that intellectual capital here? And so we had to look at more programs that we can bring people along in, connect with colleges, and also look at where we can support from a nonprofit social sector aspect as well. And that’s how we turned around and said, this is a multilayered effect of looking at talent strategy and looking at how we can allow someone to enter into this pathway and grow still here organically with Tulsa.

Amy Waninger [00:04:58]:

There was a lot in what you just said because you touched on a lot of different things. You touched on brain drain, which is a problem for a lot of second tier cities or third tier cities. Rural communities struggle with brain drain a lot. We can educate people, but we can’t keep them. And then you’ve got the problems that come with when you try to keep them. Do you have enough industry there? There’s a chicken and egg scenario because you can’t bring the industry if you don’t have the talent. And then there’s got to be a component as well of retraining and recourring people who maybe their jobs have become obsolete or the work has gone away, it’s gone elsewhere, that sort of thing. So you’re really talking when you talk about workforce development and economic development and keeping the talent in the place, there’s a lot of moving parts there, and it’s a lot that kind of from the outside, it looks like it almost has to magically all happen at the same time.

Janessa Mondestin [00:05:53]:


Amy Waninger [00:05:54]:

What does it look like from the inside? Because I’ve always been curious about where do you start when you’ve got to keep all these plates spinning and add the last one just at the right.

Janessa Mondestin [00:06:04]:

Time, just to add a little bit more complexity to that layer. How many folks who are in the organizations who have been invested in that organization for decades? So we’re also talking about a generational situation going on there too. And so if we’re talking about organizations that want to innovate and look at new talent and new technologies, we have people who are graduating, who want to be into these lifelong strong and steady brand names that’s in the heartland. We need to find a balancing act. So this whole thing is a bit of a balancing act of how much can the infrastructure sustain with new business? How do we retool and recalibrate folks who’ve been in the workforce for a long time? What’s next for them to be working on? How can they mentor or sponsor new talent coming into the pipeline so that we’re not losing intellectual capital at the same time or institutional knowledge at the same time, and yet allowing innovation to come in? So every day it’s a very delicate balance. Every day there’s never a delta. So we have to look at this by segments and we also have to look at these by categories. What does this industry or what does this organization provide as support for the community? So if we’re going to talk about early childhood education or health, how much of a balance can we innovate in that? Do we need to innovate in that? Are we already too innovative in that? And then how can we plan out career journeys to expand, like horizontally, not just vertically in an organization? And can that be sustainable? So we’re thinking about today, but we’re also thinking about three years, five years, seven years down the line.

Amy Waninger [00:07:46]:

And as you look at population trends, because the population isn’t static and the demographics of the population change, that all has to be taken into account. But then there’s this whole piece around you mentioned infrastructure, not just the jobs infrastructure, but the people and the living and the commerce and transportation infrastructure that needs to be in place. We’ve seen cities not to name names, but I’ve heard horror stories about traffic in Austin, Texas, because so many people move there so quickly and the infrastructure just couldn’t keep up. And so the complexity of this is just astounding. But then you also are dealing in the middle of all of this with basically a nationwide labor crisis. Right. So how has that affected what you’re trying to accomplish there?

Janessa Mondestin [00:08:32]:

I think that the one thing that happens is we are constantly looking at what’s going on the coasts and seeing some of the decisions that are made there and how they might be expanding the systems or imploding the systems. We still are like Denver and Austin and Kansas City, a bit of like sister cities, even though it’s scaled slightly differently there. And we want to see how they make their decisions, because one of the biggest selling points about Tulsa is that you can pretty much get anywhere in Tulsa in 20 minutes. So we are a city with a small town feel, and that is really a huge competitive advantage for people who want to come here. I’m a native New Yorker who was tired of the traffic. I lived in New York City for 41 years and just said, I don’t want to deal with the traffic. I don’t want to deal with the trains anymore. I don’t want to deal with the congestion. I need a city that feels a little bit more sustainable and yet diverse. And so I chose Tulsa for that reason, and I want to maintain that. And so we have to look at the idea of infrastructure the entire time, plus what’s going on in the greater economic kind of ecosystem of inflation, cost of living, where are the jobs? Can we afford to level set differently if we bring an organization who has a completely different philosophy and compensation, and what does that do for a local economy at the same time? So we have to remain in conversations with multitudes of people who are interested in moving the needle forward, but can we sustain it here? And if we do shift for a particular community, how do we bring them along? And I think that’s the most critical part there, because a lot of times it feels like when people make decisions, because it feels right or there’s lots of revenue that will come to the state or the city. It comes at the expense of the most historically excluded. The people who are not at the table, the people who are just like, we can just displace them someplace else and they won’t be a problem. We’ll just turn a blind eye. And so we don’t want to make those decisions. We want to bring people along with that.

Amy Waninger [00:10:32]:

Yeah. And it’s true that the people who are the most disadvantaged then will be even more disadvantaged as change comes because they’re displaced. The gentrification occurs in the downtown area, for example, or Midtown or wherever the change is happening, people get displaced, and then you’ve got even more problems. And the gap between who’s included and who’s a part of it, who isn’t widened. What kinds of results are you seeing in the city as a result of your work at in Tulsa?

Janessa Mondestin [00:11:03]:

Yeah, I think that the results. I’ll give you this one stat that we’re incredibly proud about. So we had a stat up until 2020 that most folks who graduated college left, and for 2021, it was the first year that people stayed, and that was such a tremendous amount of success there, and we continued on doing that. We’ll be measuring out for 2022. We’ll find those stats out there for 2020, 2021, and then obviously want to continue that into 2023. And the reason why that’s so important is because I’m specifically working in this recruiting aspect of work. So I am the liaison and at the intersection of new job creation, new roles, and new innovation within old legacy and organizations here, you’re thinking of the bank of Oklahoma, you’re talking about Williams Center, you’re talking about oil and gas sectors. So those are staples here. They’re not going to go away that we can foresee, but we have room for people who are brand new early in a career who say, I have something that I want to innovate and I could be creative and I bring value to these organizations. And these organizations are likely at the same time saying, we need that here and for us in order to continue to compete, especially when we have so many big words like sustainability and climate change and all other things that are going on, the political landscape as well. The really cool thing about measuring these successes is also looking at how many people are we bringing into our programs who are from multitudes of communities. So it may be like the API community, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. We can also have it from the African American community, the African Diasporan community. We may also have it from the Latinx community, which is a huge community that’s also growing here in Tulsa as well. And so we’re measuring this data and we’re seeing the numbers shift as to the fact that they are going to college more frequently, if not going to college. They’re finding nontraditional educational sources with continuing education so that they can compete in the workforce and not compete in the workforce in the way that they’re leaving, but they’re staying and they’re growing through the channels of career journeys. We’re talking about people who said, I never knew I would have a career. I’m retooling, I’m reskilling, and I’m part of a new incubator. I’m actually going to open up my own business as an entrepreneur. I’m actually going to come into the social sector and find another avenue of bringing a skill set, a cultural competency skill set that can relate to the younger generations, like particularly in public schools or in anything in educational centers. So the successes that we’re seeing, it’s also the fact that it’s creating generational success as well. So that has been incredibly beneficial for us to continue on, moving on with the mission, because it’s not just about the landscape of economy today or finding a job today, but it’s also you go back to your community and you talk about, hey, there’s a program that you can get into involved in that. You may not necessarily have that avenue or an opportunity to go to college, but you have this other avenue that you can get a skill and still compete and have something to land on. That is also where we’ve been finding success.

Amy Waninger [00:14:16]:

As you were talking, I was thinking about all of the alternative avenues to traditional education. It used to be. We pushed four year colleges. But trades are making such a comeback because there’s such a shortage of skilled trades people. There’s a shortage of apprenticeships and journeymen programs for the trades. There are all of these, like you said, incubators for startups. But there are also just tech certificate programs that you can go through to qualify you and prepare you for roles in the tech sector. And these are roles that didn’t exist 510 years ago. Ten years ago, there were no machine learning majors in college. There were no advanced analytics or artificial intelligence majors 1520 years ago. So these jobs are brand new. Social Media manager is a job that didn’t exist 1015 years ago. So as you are thinking about all of the change that you’ve seen in terms of the talent demands and the skill demands, what are some of your projections for what will be needed in the future? Have you thought about what are the jobs that don’t exist yet that you anticipate you’ll be recruiting for or trying to source for?

Janessa Mondestin [00:15:22]:

I think that hit it right on the head. There’s one thing that I do want your audience to know. It’s this idea of tech. And the idea of tech does not necessarily mean that you need to be a software developer. It means at any point that you’re going to use some form of technology to advance or make more efficient the work that you do on a daily basis in your current state. So someone thought of, how can I make this easier? If there was an app for that or if there was a process for that, I think that is where the next generation of job creation comes in from it’s. How can we continue to scale with technology and not necessarily eliminating people, but how can we use people as examples to tell technology, what do we need to move forward? So this is that conversation of artificial intelligence. I know Chat be GPT is a very big thing everyone’s talking about these days, but you need people to be the user end of it, to explain to the technology what’s the outcomes that we need. We need user stories. And that means you need people. And so that means if you’re someone who’s looking for work, whatever your generation is in, wherever you land in your identity, your story needs to be told. And so a vital skill set that I think that no matter what industry you go into, is being able to understand that your story matters. No matter where you land in any tech adjacent role, whether you’re software developer or you’re helping in software development, artificial intelligence is, I think, where people really need to start looking at and obviously data scientists, data analysts, because we know that if we just include the data that has been collected, we’re missing a key component of other people’s stories that weren’t into consideration. So when we’re thinking about this dei lens it’s not just dei in learning and development or dei in just HR, but it’s also dei in every aspect of every single thing an organization will do. Because if we want to align with technology to scale for a better tomorrow, we need multitudes of peoples and identities at the table telling their version of their story.

Amy Waninger [00:17:31]:

Yes, absolutely. Tech is not neutral. Tech is built and developed from a human perspective and typically very in a very one sided way because of who’s represented in those spaces. Historically, data is trained and modeled from a perspective that is biased, and we don’t have to go very far to see examples of that. But I find it fascinating, and I find it empowering, frankly, that the person who’s in charge of planning talent for the future is telling my audience that the two most important technical skills you can have are storytelling and empathy. To take into the future is pretty incredible. And none of that can be replaced with replaced with technology, only enhanced.

Janessa Mondestin [00:18:18]:

Absolutely. And so I meet quite a bit of people who feel like they’ve been aged out of the current job market. I’m like, no, you can age yourself back in, my friend. Your story also needs to be told there. And I think that there is. That the story of at a particular time I’m aging myself here, growing up in the 80s, when my mom would say, you could be at a company for 25 years and retire, get your pension, get your retirement funding, and live your happily married, and now with the cost of inflation, with the cost of living inflation housing. It’s not in the crisis situation, but it’s certainly something to be concerned about if you’re even early in your career and you’re trying to buy a home, or if you’re in later in your life and you’re trying to sell your home to go live someplace else more affordably. These are part of the stories that you get to tell when you’re talking about data, when you’re talking about how to analyze data and how to move an organization forward and still be able to innovate what the next steps will be, even though you’ve been doing it for 20 years, 25 years, 15 years, ten years. We hear people going through crisis. They’ve stayed with the company for over ten years, and then they’re laid off. That’s today’s news, right? But they have an opportunity here to take what their institutional knowledge has been and innovate for something new, and it doesn’t have to look like what they’ve always done. And that is an amazing opportunity to actually be in. And that’s also a conversation about diversity, too. Diversity of thought, diversity of stories, and your legacy that you’ve lived already, no one else can take that from you. And so you bring it to the table and move it forward.

Amy Waninger [00:19:56]:

Oh, Janessa, this has been such a rich conversation and one that I think needs to be had more often about this intersection of economic development and talent and just the future of the economy, because we’re all living it in real time, and the rate of change is only going to increase.

Janessa Mondestin [00:20:16]:

It’s true. Very true.

Amy Waninger [00:20:19]:

Terrifying, but also really exciting. Janessa, thank you so much for being a guest on Including You. I appreciate your time, I appreciate your insights, and I hope people in and around Tulsa will look you up. We’ll find all of the opportunity that’s available there in a city that you can get anywhere in 20 minutes, at least for now, until everybody figures it out and moves there. But hopefully you can maintain that well into the future. Thank you so much.

Voiceover Announcer [00:20:49]:

If you’ve enjoyed this episode, follow Lead at Any Level on LinkedIn and YouTube, then join us for Including You video simulcast every Thursday at noon Eastern. Including you can also be enjoyed each week as part of the Living Corporate audio podcast series, available on all major podcast platforms. Learn more@livingcorporate.com. Including you is brought to you in part by Lead at Any Level, a boutique training and consulting firm improving employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Lead at Any Level leaders can be anywhere and should be everywhere. Learn more at Lead at any level. Lead at Any Level. In its logo are registered trademarks of Lead at Any Level. LLC the views and opinions of guests on our show do not necessarily reflect the positions of Lead At Any Level, Living Corporate, or the sponsors of Including You.

Amy Waninger [00:21:35]:

That’s it for this week’s episode of Including You. Be sure to join me next week when my guest will be Kelly Yiadom from West Town School.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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