This interview is part of our Diversity in Tech series in partnership with All Raise, Anitab.org, Blavity, Grid 110, and Latinas in Tech, a coalition effort to champion diverse representation in the tech industry. Read more about this initiative here, and download images from the Diversity in Tech collection here.
Michelle Cho is the CEO and Co-Founder of Gladeo. Since 2005, Michelle has been a mentor and volunteered her time conducting college planning seminars for schools and community-based non-profits. While she was volunteering, she saw a huge gap between school and career especially for students who lived in low income neighborhoods or who were the first in their family to go to college. She started Gladeo to bridge that gap and since then, Gladeo’s online resources and workshops have helped thousands of students, teachers and counselors learn about the diverse array of careers and industries through their videos, interactive website, infographics and social media.
We caught up with Michelle to learn more about her work at Gladeo, opportunities to champion more equitable representation in tech, and her advice for young people currently navigating the path to entrepreneurship.
Hi Michelle! Tell us about yourself, how did you get to where you are today?
I’m originally from Houston, TX and moved to California for college and never left. From a young age there were 2 things I was passionate about: storytelling and helping people. So, it’s not surprising that after I finished college in the Bay Area I moved to LA to pursue a career in the film industry and volunteered in my free time.
While I was volunteering in low-income communities, I saw again and again that the students’ awareness of careers often started with what their parents did and ended with what they saw on TV. They often relied primarily on their teachers and counselors for any further career exploration. However, in low-income neighborhoods schools don’t have as many career resources and high school counselors are stretched dangerously thin. In the United States, the student-to-counselor ratio is 500:1. Moreover, career and college counseling is merely one of their many responsibilities. So, how were these kids ever going to aspire to careers they’d never heard of?
Taking our years of experience in media and entertainment to tackle this problem, my co-founder and sister, Grace Cho, and I created Gladeo to bring career dreams to life for students in a fun, current, and culturally-inclusive way. Gladeo introduces diverse people to relatable role models, broadens access to inspiration and information, and seeks to make sure that nobody is excluded from pursuing a career path.
What ultimately inspired you to create Gladeo?
We empathized with the students we volunteered with because as children of immigrants, my co-founder and I pursued careers in the entertainment industry with no industry role models, no connections, and no understanding of what jobs existed in the field or how to pursue them. That led us to develop a strong, personal understanding of the barriers that stand in the way for underrepresented youth to pursue certain careers. We created the resource we wished we had when we were younger.
What are some of the tools, programs, and resources that Gladeo offers?
The Gladeo platform uses videos, storytelling, an extensive digital library of informational interviews, as well as data-driven, personalized education and resource recommendations to facilitate the dissemination of all the kinds of knowledge (explicit, implicit, and tacit) that are crucial for successful career development.
Our research-based, inclusive storytelling and videos increase the visibility of relatable role models in industry sectors where they have been historically underrepresented.
Our digital informational interviews offer pathway-specific career guidance, openly sharing once closely guarded tacit and implicit knowledge that limited access to upwardly-mobile careers.
Our resource recommendations help users find reputable career-building opportunities tailored to their career goals, like reputable education and training programs, networking events, internships, and jobs.
How does Gladeo work with partners to maximize the reach of your work?
We work with several different types of partners:
- Employers: We work with employers to create high quality career content, to make sure our content is accurate and timely, and to share the stories of real-life people working at these companies.
- Youth development nonprofits and community based organizations around the country utilize our tools and resources to help their students with college and career readiness. Gladeo serves as a valuable resource that allows them to inspire, excite and educate their students to a vast array of careers. One of my favorite stories came from Lacoya Harris, CEO of I-impact, who works with incarcerated young people from the Cook County detention center. She shared that without Gladeo, helping youth at the juvenile detention center prepare for their future career lives would be extremely difficult, and that Gladeo has been the key to her success.
- Regional Workforce Development / Economic Development Boards: This fall, we will start to create regional portals of Gladeo because workforce needs and trends differ greatly from region-to-region. We are piloting our first region in Los Angeles with the LA Economic Development Corporation.
What are some of the greatest opportunities you see right now to drive meaningful change when it comes to more equitable representation in the tech and startup worlds?
Mentorship. As an entrepreneur, I have benefited from mentorship myself. This is my first tech startup and most of my career was spent in other industries. Without my mentors, I wouldn’t know how to navigate the startup ecosystem. This fall, we will be launching a virtual micro-mentoring program specifically for community college students who often do not have access to the same alumni connections as their counterparts at traditional four-year colleges.
At Noun Project, we believe visual language has the power to shape, reinforce and change perceptions. What are your thoughts on why diverse visual representation in tech is important to help change the status quo in the industry?
Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg said “the success of any woman is the inspiration for another.” However, the challenge with non-celebrity careers is that the people and their success stories (and they do exist) are less flashy and don’t get blasted across social media, and as a result, the inspiration they could have sparked doesn’t spread. If you come from a group that’s historically underrepresented, it can be paradigm-shifting to see someone like you doing something that you never thought possible. You have to see it to dream it and achieve it.
How can people support the work you’re doing?
Get your company involved. If your company is committed to diversity and inclusion and wants to inspire and educate diverse young people to careers in their industry, we offer opportunities for companies to share their diverse employee’s career stories on our platform. We also offer opportunities for companies to host “ask me anything” webinars to young people who want to learn about working at their company. Go to https://gladeo.org/employers to learn more.
What advice would you give to young people who are currently navigating the path to future careers in tech, entrepreneurship and beyond?
Be curious and constantly be learning new skills. Technology and increased global competition have changed the nature of work. Due to automation and AI, we are transitioning into a lifelong learning education model. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote, “The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over… if you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.” Luckily, we also live in an age where we can learn many skills online. So to young people, I would say start now!
Grid110 is an economic and community development non-profit dedicated to creating clearer pathways to success for early-stage entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. Through its two cohort-based accelerator programs, Idea-to-Product (I2P) and Residency, Grid110 provides founders in Los Angeles with a growing community of fellow entrepreneurs, expert mentorship, and crucial resources.