Monthly Archives: July 2014

Mentoring & Sponsorship @WMConferences

Last week, I spent time at Working Mother Media’s annual “Multicultural Women’s National Conference.” This event has provided me more personal development than any other conference that I have attended. I’ve even made a couple of new friends because of my participation and that is an extra special bonus. Imagine being in a room with 500 ambitious, driven, and successful women. The invitation to this conference is especially targeted towards women of color and Working Mother takes this opportunity to create a safe and honest dialogue about what is really going on with women in the workplace.

This year’s theme was powerful: “Vision and Impact: Charting What’s Next.” A brief website description read: “Together through collaborative conversation and vision planning we can launch real progress and ignite action in our careers and in our lives – thus positively impacting the future for the advancement of multicultural women in the workplace.

Our vision, values and goals shape the way we work, along with the expectations we have for our careers, and our lives. Knowing what we want – and being able to articulate that – is vital to live lives and build careers that have impact.”

Given the circumstances that my company has thrust upon the employees, it seems more than fitting. What is next in my career and my life? This conference presented me with time and space to evaluate my current professional career path. I set out very deliberate intentions to consider all the possibilities ahead of me, in the back of my mind. Externally, I agreed to play the role of a “Thought Leader” in the same race and cross race discussion groups.

Participants were asked to choose two topics related to a professional area that they needed to strengthen. My role became “facilitator” and I helped the guide a discussion to explore how the participants approach this area, how the power of their belief system shapes and influences that behavior, impacting career decisions and possibly impeding advancement.

We used a technique loosely based on Open Space Technology. No formal structured agenda existed in the beginning, each group had a topic area and began the conversation from there. The desired outcomes were simple: to raise issues that were most important to the participants in the group, engage everyone in the discussion, and share the findings in the cross-race discussions on the same topic. The six topics were based on six critical components for the career advancement of women:

EXECUTIVE PRESENCE
BRANDING
MENTORING
NEGOTIATIONS
WORK LIFE BALANCE
OFFICE POLITICS

What I want to share came out of my same race conversation circle on the topic of Mentoring and Sponsorship.

We were given a few questions to begin our discussion:
Do you have a personal board of directors? A mentor? If so, what is the value add? If not, what are the barriers to enablement? Do you believe someone in your organization is your sponsor—someone who is telling others about your value to the organization?

Questions:
Do you have a broad range and influential level of mentors and sponsors?
In what ways are you – or are you not – sponsorable?

Goal 1: Ensure race is part of the conversation—how does this group uniquely experience the topic at hand?

Goal 2: Encourage timely and actionable focus—is this something they’re dealing with right now and can impact in the near-term?

Goal 3: Avoid redundancy—seek to build on others’ thoughts, in the same conversation and from the session prior.

Goal 4: Go beneath the surface—use probing questions to uncover the “why”, “who” and “how” of the experience.

As always, I elected to start our dialogue with brief introductions: name, company and why they selected this topic. I find that this helps the participants hear their own voice in the room and therefore, “warm them up” to participate more fully. As an Introvert, I know this tiny step helps me. If I had more time, I would have asked each participant to share one thing they are excited about this summer. Having people talk about something they are excited about helps to elevate their levels of engagement. Adults really enjoy talking about themselves. Little touches like using an adult’s first name when addressing a question to them or following up a comment they made does wonders for an individual’s enthusiasm. This isn’t an ego thing, it is a human thing. Also, I’ve found that the higher one moves up in the organization, the less “human” their interactions become. People seem to lose their minds when speaking to high ranking executives and don’t give them honest and candid feedback for fear of harming one’s career progression. Also, people don’t treat high ranking executives the same way they would treat a person who doesn’t sit in the corner office. This is a ridiculous way to function in corporate America. The world is shrinking and communication needs to be transparent. We do not have time for politicking anymore. Work needs to get done through authentic and meaningful dialogue. Everyone adds value to the workplace -regardless of title, age, race, level of education, sexual orientation, gender and any other aspect of being a human being that people use to divide us into groups. Just keep it real and cut out the bullshit, people. We will all get a lot more accomplished.

Back to my Thought Leader same race discussion group…

We, as a group, decided to define “mentoring” and “sponsorship” before we went any further, I offered two very brief definitions: Mentoring is talking TO someone about career development and that someone is NOT in your direct reporting chain of command. Anyone can find a mentor or a mentor. Sponsorship is when someone is talking ABOUT you when you are not in the room. This usually happens during talent review or when leaders work to identify participants for stretch assignments. Sponsorship is usually earned through showing consistently strong performance and building a reputation for delivering solid business results. Interestingly enough, participants in both of my small groups said that they had never had a problem with finding mentors. However, only a handful of them knew whether they had a sponsor or not. In my mind, that is data worth exploring further. Why don’t Asian women know if they have sponsors? Or do they not have sponsors? Is there a cultural component to this? Is it because across corporate America, most of the key decision makers are still straight, white men? These are things to consider in the future.

The same race groups who were discussing Mentoring and Sponsorship had five key points to share with the cross race groups. This is what the Asian women wanted the other groups to realize about us, as a collective group. I own these findings, as an Asian American woman.

1. We are usually the only woman, the only Asian, and the youngest looking person in the room. Because we look younger, we need to build credibility early in the meeting to establish that we are NOT the junior person on the team. Many of the women reported wearing glasses or very professional attire to look older. And everyone said it was critical to note their tenure with their company so we aren’t ignored or overlooked in the workplace.

2. Being Asian may get in the way of our own self-promotion. Bragging or at least talking about our achievements is very counter cultural to Asians. However, this skill is a critical one when finding a sponsor.

3. As we move up in our careers, it becomes more difficult to find mentors and sponsors who are key decision makers. In numbers, most organizations have less women and less women of color and even less Asian women at the top.

4. In order to be promoted, we must build cross-functional skills. It seems that we Asians are very skilled at being individual contributors and are not usually tapped on the shoulder for key assignments in the sexy departments like marketing and sales. Most of us received messages from our well-intended parents that hard work pays off and the nail that stands up gets hammered down. Well, in corporate America, one needs to learn how to stretch outside one’s comfort zone, take risks and stand out. We must be intentional in asking for coaching and career development.

5. Different Asian cultures have varying levels of comfort with speaking out. We enjoyed a lively discussion about how Indian women seem to have a lot less challenges in asking for coaching and feedback. Many of the participants were not U.S.-born and that adds a layer of complexity to the discussion. The long and the short of it was, not all Asians are alike. One size does not fit all.

The discussions did not bring any new revelations to my mind about being Asian in corporate America and trying to find a mentor or sponsor. The value I gleaned from this conversation was just in being surrounded by people like me. We all shared very openly and freely, things that came easy to us in the workplace and a few things that are barriers to our success. I feel like my course is still uncharted in terms of what’s next but I do feel like I own my responsibility to continue to help other women be successful.

“Just Because I’m Quiet” Can an Introvert Really Blog Once A Week?

One discovery I have made in exploring this topic is that my Introversion actually hinders my ability to blog on a weekly basis.  Living in my Introversion does not lend itself to being a very effective baby blogger.  (“Baby” means “new” not that I am blogging about babies.)

“Reality TV! Social Media! Big-and-bold leaders! Sometimes it seems life today is tailor-made for extroverts. But given that as many as half of Americans are introverts, how can quieter types succeed amidst so much noise?”  This concept of being big and loud in the US has plagued me for most of my life.  My parents are Asian immigrants who whispered covert coaching tips in my ears.  If I wanted success:  keeping quiet, staying humble and working hard would reap rewards and recognition.  Unfortunately, what I realized when I hit the workforce was that life is more “the squeaky wheels gets the grease” and a lot less “the nail that stands up gets hammered down.”  My parents and I didn’t define “rewards and recognition” in the same context.  They thought that lifelong employment and a pension were crucial to living the American Dream.  However, I longed for a work environment where I was constantly challenging the status quo and developing new ideas to create space for innovative thinking and creativity to thrive.  Compound my conflicted Asian upbringing with being an Introvert and my instinctive nature to want to make others great and that is a recipe for folding in the complex card game of corporate America.  Thankfully, my chosen career is based on the concept of creating a new culture that leverages diversity and builds an inclusive work environment.  After studying Generational Diversity as a concept to help me be successful in my company, Introvert/Extrovert personality styles is my new frontier to explore.

Many books have been written on this topic.  Susan Cain is one of the most recognized names in this field.  She recently announced “The Quiet Revolution” in her TED talk in the Spring of 2014.  Her book, “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” has garnered attention from critics, business leaders and parents alike.  Ms. Cain was a keynote speaker at a diversity conference that I attended in Atlanta this past May 2014.  For me, I was tickled to hear someone addressing this topic in a keynote address.  One other author who I have read is Laure A. Helgoe, who penned, “Introvert Power:  Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.”  Ms. Helgoe released a second edition where she works to deconstruct the cultural bias that links extraversion to happiness, which means that introverts must be less happy.   Both authors approach this topic differently but with a great deal of introspection and care.  One guess whether they are each introverts or extroverts.

One discovery I have made in exploring this topic is that my Introversion actually hinders my ability to blog on a weekly basis.  I’ve spent weeks mulling this concept and thinking about how to position this in a blog topic and once I worked it out in my head, I didn’t feel the need to post my thoughts.  I had Introverted the topic so thoroughly in my own mind to resolution and moved on without even typing a word.  Living in my Introversion does not lend itself to being a very effective baby blogger.  (“Baby” means “new” not that I am blogging about babies.)  Another aspect of this concept that interferes with my blogging is my extremely extroverted (with a capital EX) daughter.  She just walked in and said, “Hey mom, are you ready to go?”  I replied, “Just give me about 30 minutes to finish this blog draft and I will be ready to go, please go pack what you need for the day.  Daughter exits and returns in two minutes with her change of clothes and a big smile, as she deposits the pile of clothes on my bed and begins to chat me up incessantly.  “Here is my stuff, what’s your blog about?, my friend can’t come today..”  I have to cut her off and say quietly, “30 minutes of quiet.  Go or this is going to take even longer.”  She smiles and hops out of my room and calls out behind her,  “I love you, Mom!”  That is also an example of why it is so hard for me to find a moment of privacy to FaceTime with my boyfriend or to do pretty much anything else.  My offspring is an Extrovert and I love her with all my heart, there are just times when she sucks every ounce of my energy out of my every pore.  A single parent needs support and a break from time to time, I believe that a single Introverted parent whose child is an Extrovert with ADHD deserves a lifetime pass to a day spa or campsite or whatever moment of silence and solitude she or he craves.

All of this led to me to create a diversity workshop on Introverts and Extroverts for the annual women’s professional development conference at my corporation.  The corporation has US affiliates in manufacturing, sales and marketing and financial services.  Our parent company is from an industry that is traditionally male-dominated.  We live and work in a U.S. society that is clearly biased towards extroverts, I wanted to explore how that plays out at each of our workplaces and impacts career growth for women.  Admittedly, it had the potential to be more than a 90 minute workshop but I wanted to plant a seed on the topic to see what might germinate from it.

The description of the workshop:  Conference participants will observe an exercise to introduce “Introversion & Extroversion” and go through a guided discussion and to discuss this topic as it relates to working at our corporation.  This worshop competed against a discussion on Sheryl Sanberg’s “Lean In” amongst others yet we had standing room only crowds for each session.  That indicated a certain level of interest.  Executives and managers alike told me they appreciated the discussion and a new way to frame diversity in the workplace.

This all makes me think about how personality style impacts interpersonal relationships.  My colleague kicks off many of his workshops on diversity with this statement: “People make 90% of their judgments about you based on the 10% of what they see.”   With that said, strangers will make an assessment about who they think I am based on my clothing, hair style and color, height, weight, shape of my eyes, curve of my ass, and anything else they see. Because I am an Introvert, an INFJ to be exact, I may not seem as interested in meeting this stranger. If they come on too strong I will, at least subconsciously, recoil away from him or her.  However, the second part of that kick-off statement is that “90% of who we are cannot be seen.”  People are like icebergs, the surface doesn’t reveal what is beneath the surface and Introverts have an invisible forcefield that blocks people from getting to know that 90% of who they really are.

 

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I’ve read a variety of different numbers when it comes to the percentage of the population who are INFJ, like me. Most of the data I have seen says we are less than 4% (and sometimes the data is reported as low as less than 1%) of the population, making my type the most rare of all.

Profile of an INFJ Personality, according to Typefinder. http://www.typefinder.com/infj

“INFJ in a Nutshell

INFJs are creative nurturers with a strong sense of personal integrity and a drive to help others realize their potential. Creative and dedicated, they have a talent for helping others with original solutions to their personal challenges.

The Counselor has a unique ability to intuit others’ emotions and motivations, and will often know how someone else is feeling before that person knows it himself. They trust their insights about others and have strong faith in their ability to read people. Although they are sensitive, they are also reserved; the INFJ is a private sort, and is selective about sharing intimate thoughts and feelings.

What Makes the INFJ Tick

INFJs are guided by a deeply considered set of personal values. They are intensely idealistic, and can clearly imagine a happier and more perfect future. They can become discouraged by the harsh realities of the present, but they are typically motivated and persistent in taking positive action nonetheless. The INFJ feels an intrinsic drive to do what they can to make the world a better place.

INFJs want a meaningful life and deep connections with other people. They do not tend to share themselves freely but appreciate emotional intimacy with a select, committed few. Although their rich inner life can sometimes make them seem mysterious or private to others, they profoundly value authentic connections with people they trust.”

Luckily, I am a type of Introvert who really likes people and is blessed with a large social circle of friends and colleagues. Usually, I present as an Extrovert to the outside world. People who see me speak at conferences will swarm me and reach out to connect with questions and comments. What they don’t realize is that it takes all my energy to speak in front of a large conference room and I need time to recharge in solitude.

This is not the last time I will think about being an Introvert. Hopefully it isn’t the last time I blog about it.

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