Navigating the exciting, hyper-fast-paced juggernaut that is Silicon Valley can be intimidating for anyone - but even more so if you’re part of an underrepresented group. It’s easy to feel out of place or disempowered when you don’t see yourself reflected much in your work environment - especially one that has a reputation for being pretty intense.
If you’re a minority in The Valley and feeling a bit lost and alone, don’t fret. I’ll explain how to tap into two invaluable resources - mentors and sponsors - for navigating this obstacle course like a pro.
Mentors Vs. Sponsors
In a nutshell, sponsors are influential members of your organization who can supercharge your career by being your champion and opening doors.
Mentors are experts who can advise you on your goals and career steps. They can also act as sounding boards to help you think through your problems. They aren’t necessarily committing to be your sponsors. In most cases, they won’t have the influence to be one.
“[Harvard Business School’s Professor David A] Thomas, among many others, has identified the mentoring relationship as a key method for overcoming the differences in career progression patterns, frequently identified between white and minority employees.”
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
Our CEO - an immigrant woman of color - told me an inspirational story of how a mentor at a previous company helped her build up confidence and excel in her role - going from a lost, struggling newbie with very few people she could relate to, to her company’s top salesperson in North America! That’s just one of many stories of how mentors can drastically change the course of your career - especially if you have the added challenge of being part of an underrepresented group.
While it’s great to have a variety of mentors who can give you a wide range of perspectives, as a woman or minority, it can be invaluable to have at least some mentors who share your particular struggles - whether as a woman, person of color, immigrant, or LGBTQA+ person. It’s important to have a safe space in which to express yourself fully when discussing issues that affect you particularly because of your background, which not all mentors would be able to fully comprehend.
When searching for mentors, whether internally or externally, try to find at least one or two whom you can truly relate to in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
After you’ve found the right mentors, keep these following tips in mind:
1. Do the work upfront
Go to them with specific goals and asks. You should be driving this relationship. Your benefits are directly related to your effort and strategy.
2. Give them closure and feedback
Avoid leaving them hanging/disappearing into a black hole.
3. Keep them posted on your progress
Keep them engaged and motivated by staying in touch. Reach out to them regularly with updates on your successes.
4. Make it a two-way street
Giving can be very rewarding. But, most people enjoy reciprocal, win-win situations even more.
5. Guard their trust
Loose lips sink ships - and promising mentorship relationships. Remember to always treat these valuable relationships with respect, maturity, and "The Golden Rule."
Once you find the right sponsor, here are ways to maximize your relationship with them.
1. Clarify your goals.
A sponsor won’t know which opportunities to help you with if you don’t make your goals clear to them.
2. Be mindful of pacing.
A lasting and mutually-beneficial relationship of any kind requires thoughtfulness, patience, and emotional intelligence.
3. Always put your best foot forward.
They’re gatekeepers for promotions, jobs, and opportunities, so make it easy for them to have full confidence in your competence, reliability, and loyalty.
4. Make it a two-way street.
Ask them what you can do for them.
“Find ways to support them [sponsors] and ask them about their challenges -- you'll be surprised how much value you can add back!” - Erica Dhawan, Global Leadership Expert
5. Have in-person meetings.
Having face-to-face interactions with sponsors are much better than having them over email or phone.
Please share this post with your networks using hashtag #nextplaymentoring. You can email us at Charu@nextplay.ai if any of this resonated with you - and especially if you have a mentorship success story to share!