The power of mentoring underrepresented professionals who face bias, discrimination and racism

When Ana decided to leave the corporate world to start her own business, she knew this would be a BIG step in her career and life. While she was a Procurement and Supply Chain leader in top organisations, leading high-performing teams was her true calling. But life proved that her future had a completely different path. This year, she founded Green Apples Career, a mentoring hub for underrepresented professionals. The new entrepreneur and full-time mentor is helping individuals who face bias, bullying, discrimination and racism in the workplace to regain their confidence. The mentoring hub helps professionals have a voice to build successful careers in diverse and inclusive organisations. 

Ana-Maria Velica has always had the drive to get involved in Diversity and Inclusion initiatives for women and underrepresented groups. When mentoring colleagues, she supported them with career plans with equitable support for the underrepresented professionals. In other words, needs-based support was created to ensure equitable promoting opportunities.

In 18 years in management roles, she hired people, restructured and transformed teams, she advised and supported hundreds of people to grow careers. While progressing in her international career, Ana had to constantly overcome obstacles in the workplace, either being a woman in male-dominated teams and jobs or being an ethnic minority leader. She found herself in situations of sexual harassment from a male senior director, she was shouted at and dismissed in team meetings, she was bullied and discriminated against her gender and her national background, she faced harassment while her career progression was put on hold due to institutional racism and toxic workplaces. Building a successful career out of traumatic experiences is extraordinary, so people with similar situations can overcome discrimination and harassment.

Event photography: Andreea Tufescu / Founder Ana-Maria Velica at Green Apples Career launch event in London.

For two years, she was a guest lecturer at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, where she taught the Master’s students of Global Supply Chain and Logistics Management how to develop their careers with a focus on Diversity and Inclusion. Students received tips for landing a job and clear strategies for fitting the needs of a talent-seeking company, giving them a distinctive edge for future job interviews.

Fast forward to the present time, in London, where she has been based since 2014, Ana felt that she wanted to follow her heart after twenty years in the corporate world in three big companies and four countries. After successful management jobs in international cultures, Ana has found the one thing she would see herself doing for the rest of her life, as she told me. To support minority professionals with career development mentorship and to help organisations accelerate their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion culture to attract, motivate and retain talent.

The official launch of Green Apples Career was on the 3rd of September, 2022. About forty guests of 18 nationalities and backgrounds attended the networking event and celebrated Diversity, Equality and Equity to progress in careers regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion or race.

Event photography: Andreea Tufescu / Green Apples Career event.

Ana-Maria Velica: “Great mentors celebrate with you every step of the way and encourage you to keep trying.”

First, let’s simplify what you mean by underrepresented professionals.

Thank you for asking this question, Corina. Underrepresented means people with lower socio-economic status, individuals from specific races, ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ+ community and non-dominant religions.

At Green Apples Career launch event, you asked your guests, “What is the best career advice they have ever received?” Let me ask you, what has worked best for you?

Very glad to answer this question: the best career advice I received 14 years ago when I felt stuck in my career. My Australian friend recommended me to apply for jobs outside of Romania. I remember the feedback she gave me back then: “You have an international mindset, Ana. You act and think bigger than what this company and country can offer you. So, apply for international jobs, prepare for the interview, trust your abilities and go and live your life in a beautiful cosmopolitan city”. Jessica, my friend, advised me that all I could change stayed in my power. I cannot change the culture of any company. All I can change is myself and my life. So here I am today, happy to be an accomplished woman, proud of the successful international career I built in four countries and proud of what I am becoming.

What are the benefits of having a mentor?

The benefits of having a mentor are many. To me, a mentor is someone you truly respect and look up to; someone experienced and knowledgeable, someone you admire, someone you resonate with and have great human chemistry with. The mentor helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel, makes you see the hope inside yourself and makes you overcome obstacles you put yourself through due to a lack of confidence. A mentor knows to listen actively and how to guide you to achieve your goals in your personal and professional life quicker. The mentor gives you access to sources of information to help you achieve your goals. The mentor creates opportunities that you have never believed existed. The mentor keeps you accountable and cheers for you when you reach the finish line. Finally, great mentors celebrate with you every step of the way and encourage you to keep trying.

Event photography Andreea Tufescu / Founder and mentor Ana-Maria Velica speaking with guests at the Green Apples Career event.

When did you first have a mentor?

Very early in my career, I didn’t even know they were called mentors. I was privileged to work for blue chip organisations (author’s note: blue chip companies are reputable, financially stable and long-established within their sector), which offered me the chance to formally work with mentors who made a big difference in my career.

What are some of the most common mental challenges that underrepresented people face in the workplace, and what advice would you give them?

When you are the exception and feel the representation is not there, neither in your team nor your company, you start questioning your decisions, even your input in team meetings. Your confidence level is going as down as the level of representation of your specific characteristics. In simpler words, where there isn’t diversity, there is no mental health. That’s the biggest challenge for someone who is a minority of any kind in the workplace. Personally, I always had to overcome obstacles of being a woman and speaking with a specific accent when working and growing my career in European Countries: Romania, Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain.

Can you imagine a Green Apples Career Community for your mentees where they could share their experiences, support each other, and perhaps become mentors?

That would be a dream come true! I created Green Apples Career as a hub for underrepresented professionals to seek and find career advice of any kind. A place where it’s easy to talk ABOUT discrimination, workplace bullying, micro-aggression, harassment and other difficult realities. A place where underrepresented professionals find their voices and stand up for their rights to claim great careers in diverse and equitable workplaces. I would like the people to choose us over other mentors for the 20 years of international expertise, as every country has a different culture and particularities, and for the lived experience in career management.

Ana-Maria Velica and Corina Stoicescu at Green Apples Career launch event in London, UK.

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