Community The Future of Work: Unlocking Hidden Potential

by Taiia Smart Young | October 11, 2022

When it comes to women-owned businesses, the needle is definitely moving in the right direction, but an entrepreneurial gender gap still remains.

A March 2022 Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions report noted that while there has been an increase in women-owned businesses in the past two decades, women still engage in entrepreneurship at a lower rate than men (11% vs. 14%). And the gaps grow wider through each stage — from intention of starting a business to establishing one — in large part, the report finds, because women still lack access to finance at the venture capital stage.

Through its $500 million Citi Impact Fund, Citi is using its own capital to make equity investments in "double bottom line" U.S.-based private sector companies that are applying innovative solutions to help address some of society's most pressing challenges. Citi’s Impact Fund actively seeks opportunities to invest in businesses that are led or owned by women and people of color to help combat the gender and race gaps that exist in the VC-funded startup ecosystem.

Businesses like Pathstream. Founded in 2015 by Eleanor Cooper, the San Francisco-based company is on a mission to create accessible career pathways for in-demand digital jobs. They do this by providing certificate programs and career support for data analytics, digital marketing and project management roles that will, in turn, help people achieve greater economic mobility.

As a result of Citi’s investment in Pathstream, Cooper says that they were better able to meet the rapid demand for growth in 2021. According to Pathstream’s 2021 Impact Report they delivered +80% career advancement success rate with a salary increase of 30% on average. Pathstream also delivered on employer’s DE&I goals by supporting the career advancement of learners who are 71% non-white, 62% women or non-binary and 55% non-degree holders

Life and Money by Citi sat down to talk to Cooper about Pathstream’s successful programs, the importance of celebrating success and seeking out role models.

Eleanor Cooper, Co-Founder and CEO of Pathstream

Eleanor Cooper, Co-Founder and CEO of Pathstream. Photo courtesy of Pathstream

What inspired you to launch your business?

I grew up in rural North Carolina, and both of my parents were small business owners. Their employees were mostly lower income individuals who didn’t have college degrees, and many were people of color. Despite my growing up with these individuals and their kids, it was clear how different our paths were, just because we came from families with different resources. 

The company that I started is about improving career paths for people. We falsely label people — quickly and early on in their lives — so that opportunities aren't as accessible for all. I’ve always been curious about unlocking human potential so that individuals can realize their potential and have self-determination.

You create “pathways” to career advancement by helping adults gain critical digital skills via certificate programs through universities and in partnership with corporations. Pathstream has helped an overwhelming majority of students reach their career goal within one year of completing the program. How is that possible?

We remove known barriers. Classes are online. You don't have to log in at a specific time. You can have any kind of work, family situation or parenting responsibilities, and do this on your own schedule. Also, students are in a cohort and have an instructor, so you're never going at it alone. You have accountability and support.

Our whole organization is student-centric and focused on taking an asset-based, versus a deficit-based, approach in our pedagogy. What I mean by that is we recognize that individuals have lots of skills and abilities. Most students are over the age of 25 (and 21 percent are older than 40). They have life and work experience that they bring to the table. Our role is to help them realize how to take those skills and use them in a context that's aligned with where they want to go in life.

Our whole organization is student-centric and focused on taking an asset-based, versus a deficit-based, approach in our pedagogy.
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How has the Citi Impact Fund fueled Pathstream's success?

They provided capital, but they go above and beyond that. Our contact there is always following up with something helpful — making an introduction, sharing resources or an idea from a different industry. The Citi team makes sure that they're part of our journey and not merely watching from the sidelines.

How does your team celebrate professional wins?

We have a very woman-driven leadership team and woman-driven culture. It's high communication and high collaboration in terms of being open and sharing success with one another. Every Friday, we get together as a team and the first item on our agenda is to talk about the students and the progress they've made. When we have a student success story, our social channels light up. It means so much to people — from the instructors to the operations team, to the folks in finance and our engineering team. Startups are hard, and those success stories are probably the number one fuel that keeps all of us going, even in tough times 

Did you have role models for your career when you were growing up?

I grew up in a traditional Southern culture with an emphasis on: Who are you dating? Are you getting married soon? Thinking about having kids? How are you dressed? There were very few women I knew with careers as a main focus. I moved to New York when I was 21 and worked in finance, and it was then that I saw how many career paths and opportunities were open for women. If you're in an environment that doesn't encourage you or you don't see how you can be successful, there are other places you can go where that isn't the case. I just urge people to explore new environments that will embrace you for who you are.

Adult students paying attention in class

What do you absolutely love about being the CEO of Pathstream?

The CEO job is hard. The reason why I find it fulfilling is that I do love the creativity of it. No one's going to tell you what the right answer is — you just need to figure it out. And I value creating an organization where it's not bureaucratic. We have an organization that values service-oriented leadership, where moving up the ladder means you support individuals, and your job is to help others to be successful.

This will be the work of my life. Finding a solution for economic mobility is the one thing I've always been passionate about. I'm really grateful I’ve found a way to wake up every day and get to do that thing I care about.

Pathstream success stories

Last year, the company delivered an 80-percent career advancement success rate while serving almost 7,000 students. Like these former students who changed their career trajectories.

●  After giving birth to her first son, Keilandra Bridges began driving a school bus to have greater flexibility to care for her son. She wanted to switch to a tech-based career path for greater financial mobility. Bridges pursued Pathstream’s data analysis program and within a few weeks of completion began her career as a safety data analyst. 

●  Folakemi Seun Adeosun went from working for a non-governmental organization to the tech industry when she moved from Nigeria to the U.S. Seun Adeson, who had earned an MBA in her country, studied cloud-based software with Pathstream. Seun Adeson now combines her love of humanitarian causes by working for a non-profit that provides emergency assistance.

Folakemi Seun Adeosun, Pathstream student

Folakemi Seun Adeosun, Pathstream student. Photo courtesy of Pathstream

Taiia Smart Young

is an editor and book coach. She teaches entrepreneurs how to write and self-publish brand-building non-fiction books. Her work has appeared in ESSENCE, Latina, Bustle and Black Enterprise.