In my family, there were 3 paths you could take: farmer, military, or nothing. While that might be an exaggeration a generation later, when I was 16 it seemed pretty straight forward. From the time I was a kid, I was told the military would be my path. I thought they’d pay for college and frankly, that was enough incentive to a kid who had no idea what they wanted to be when they grew up.
At 16 when I started to get a sense that I enjoyed writing, my mom suggested marketing by taking me to the Pentagon to meet the women behind the Be All You Can Be campaign. Even as my dreams became more clear, I assumed I would do it all in uniform. Then, later that year, I came out to my mom.
My dreams changed the day a military recruiter called my house. When I answered the phone, my mom also picked it up in another room. “Put the phone down Katrina,” she said with a stern voice I knew not to argue with. After putting the phone down, I could hear her next words from the other room. “My name is [redacted] and you will not call my house again, do you understand me, soldier? Katrina will not be joining the military.”
Carving Our Career Paths
What my mom knew that I did not is about this policy called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ A policy that told me that being gay wasn’t ok. It was also why at 16 I had never met a gay person before. It wasn’t ok to be out. Clearly, my mom wasn’t interested in putting me on a career path where I’d have to live without love or withhold a giant secret that could get me fired.
That meant I had no planned career path when I left college and no buddies to call to get me my first job. My family knew other people in the military, but that was about it. That meant I had to start my career the same way everyone else did: by Googling a job title and hitting enter.
That took me to a strip mall in Northern Virginia where I was teaching kids how to read and write. It’s also where my story gets a little more magical. A little more one in a million. See, I taught a kid named Hope how to read and her dad offered me a job working on HR technology. “You’re smart,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re going to do but I want you to work for me.”
That day fundamentally changed my life. It gave me a once in a lifetime chance to start down a career path. To find something I loved. To find work I enjoyed. Most people don’t meet kids like Hope who have dads that are starting companies. That’s why access changed everything and why I’m so excited about the potential of AI.
AI Matters: Without AI, Paths Are Limited
People who grow up in families with paths like farmer and officer don’t usually stray far from the line because we can’t even imagine a whole new life. We can’t see ourselves in that role because we never heard the language before. We don’t understand what to search or how to look.
The research proves it. Children are more likely to pursue the jobs of their parents because of something called the ‘breakfast-table effect,’ which just means that family conversations influence their interests and knowledge of careers, especially less commonly understood careers and what they entail. Children have described this effect as “speaking the same language” (The New York Times).
That language tailors paths. How do you even discover a path you don’t know exists? If you don’t have access to information and references, access to potential career paths is limited. I was lucky enough to break through the barrier of growing up with limited career path options, but that was a matter of chance.
Facebook even used data from 5.6 million people and found that there are many jobs that parents have, including being a nurse, scientist, or lawyer, that increase the chances of their children inheriting the same exact career paths (Daily Mail).
Parents with particular career paths offer connections to their children, allowing children who pursue the same jobs as their parents a head start – whether that’s through inheriting a family business, getting an internship at a parent’s company, or a parent putting in a good word for them within the industry (The New York Times).
With AI, We Can Beat The Odds
That’s why AI matters – to beat the odds. Of all the use cases for AI, I’m most excited about the ones that support talent discovery. How we find people who don’t have the traditional background or perfect resume for the job. By creating paths to introduce and facilitate less biased hires, we can change access to careers that can change everything and bring generational wealth to families.
We can change lives – over multiple generations. I didn’t end up in the military or working as a farmer, but that only happens every once in a while. It’s not an everyday occurrence. I beat the odds, and technology can increase the number of people who beat the odds every day.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out ArenaAnalytics.IO. Full transparency – I am a member of their board and clearly bought into their concepts.