A mentor is a valuable resource to have in your professional and personal life. I got to sit down and chat with Joy Carter and Coleysia Chestnut on their mentor/mentee relationship that they have developed over the past two years.
Joy Carter, APR, is Communications Manager for AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, a Birmingham-based manufacturer of iron and steel pipe, fire hydrants and valves. She is a PR/communications graduate of Auburn University and is Accredited in Public Relations (APR). She serves on the executive boards of Momentum and the Literacy Council of Central Alabama and is active in the Public Relations Society of America and the Public Relations Council of Alabama.
Coleysia Chestnut is on the Engineering Workforce Management team at BBVA. She has a Master’s degree in Strategic Communication from Troy University and BS in Urban Planning from Alabama A&M University. She is a published author of The Exhale Journal and advocates for equity and inclusion of minority groups within corporations. Above all else, her most proud accolade is being the mother of her sweetest 2 year son, Randall.
How did you meet and decide to become a pair?
I had completed my masters degree in Strategic Communication in 2017 and had just started my communications role shortly after. I decided to attend Birmingham Business Journal’s Mentoring Monday event, which is essentially “speed mentoring.” Individuals have the opportunity to speak with as many mentors as they want within an hour span but only have about 7 minutes with each mentor. I saw that Joy was going to be one of the mentors and I came prepared with a list of questions. I was 8 months pregnant at the time. After meeting, we went to lunch. Joy was actually one of the few who made it to the hospital when my child was born; I thought it was amazing that she came.
I was so impressed with Coleysia at the event. They said, “go,” and I looked up and she was making a beeline for me. She sat down with her notebook and began asking her questions. I was just immediately so impressed with her. I really enjoyed the very short conversation we had. Afterward, she called to follow up to ask“Will you be my mentor?” She was very specific in asking for the relationship. She was the catalyst. Her tenacity and drive impress me. I often tell her it is a co-mentoring relationship; I learn from her, too, in her role as a communications professional. It’s been a wonderful co-mentoring relationship.
What have you learned from each other throughout your relationship?
She always comes prepared to our meetings with a question or something she wants to talk about, but it often leads to questions that I have for her. As a young professional, she is so very smart and she is so good with technology. Each time we get together it is an opportunity for me to learn from her. At our most recent get together I was most interested to talk with her about a diversity and inclusion project she is a part of at BBVA, and she shared with me some really good resources for that. Every get together is an opportunity to learn from each other.
Joy teaches me a lot about navigating the corporate arena. I remember being frustrated because I wasn’t moving up in my role and felt like I should be in a different place in my career–she reminded me that it was okay, because I was still fairly new and if I used this time to soak up as much information as I could and focus on mastering my current role, opportunities for advancement would soon follow. There are always things that I will run by her, like “something about this does not seem fair to me, what is your opinion on it or how would you handle it?” Given her HR experience, she offers a different professional perspective outside of my network which I really do appreciate. Overall, I rely heavily on Joy for giving me advice about navigating corporate America and how to accomplish professional goals.
How have you appreciated being a pair that isn’t exactly alike?
Thinking back to our last meeting, and talking about diversity and inclusion, it was knowing I could have that conversation with her, and we were both coming from a place of respect and wanting and needing to talk and share. I wanted to listen and ask for her perspective and insight. It’s extremely beneficial to have the relationship we do, where we can have an open conversation.
I think Joy is amazing for me because a lot of times when black people–and black women in particular–when we speak up, it can sometimes come across as whining. With Joy I felt safe to talk about some of my concerns with the racism we’ve been encountering. It may come off as a “vent,” but sometimes it’s important to have someone you can talk to about racism in the workplace. Who better to talk to about that than with someone who has agreed to be your mentor? It creates a safe environment for me to talk. Across the board, Joy is my safe space where I can talk about things that matter to me as it relates to work and even things outside of work.
Why do you think it’s important to promote diversity within professional environments and relationships?
It’s important to have different perspectives. When I approached Joy, I didn’t approach her as a white woman. She was the communications manager of a pretty big company and that was something I was interested in. At the beginning of our relationship there had been some discriminatory issues with my previous company. As she helped me navigate that experience, I’m sure she got a lot of insight on roadblocks and challenges experienced by a minority female. Exposure to these injustices are critical, so when someone has the opportunity to have a voice of an organization, they can consider the impact and tone of communications to ALL employees. As we share experiences together, we learn a little bit about some of both of our cultures that may impact the work environment. Just as she may learn from some of my stories, I learn from hers by being a woman navigating through her previous roles. Granted there are injustices for black people as a race, but women are also marginalized in my opinion in the work environment. Getting her insight and guidance through that was very valuable. I can’t thank Joy enough.
We all bring different strengths and talents to our jobs, communities, and families. For that reason, we need to do a much better job in corporate America and in our communities of working towards more inclusion. In what we have seen in the last few months, we have a long way to go, but these conversations, which are perhaps awkward or difficult to have, are so important in moving us forward. Having relationships, like the one Coleysia and I have, provide safe places to share and learn together. We need that in our workplaces and in our communities.
One of the efforts that Coleysia is working with at BBVA, Team Talks, allows people to have these conversations. It’s really sad that decades after the Civil Rights movement we are still struggling to make more progress, as Coleysia said, for our black communities, for women in the workplace, and other groups as well. Relationships, like ours, are the basis for the conversations that we have to have to accelerate progress. It’s not enough to say, “We’re making progress.” We’ve got to move faster towards diversity in our companies and diversity at upper levels of management. There needs to be change, and it needs to happen faster.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into a mentor/mentee relationship?
If I could, offer advice as a mentee, because I do feel as though it is primarily the role of the mentee to promote this relationship. You need to assess yourself so you know what skills you lack and will know what to look for in a mentor. If there is an opportunity, I would first acknowledge that you realize who they are and have done your research on that person. When you do approach them, you need to be direct and communicate what you want to get out of your relationship. Be open to the answer being no. When you have someone that is in the position that you would like to be in one day, you need to understand that they are probably very busy. When I approached Joy I wasn’t arrogant in asking her to drag me along on her career journey it was more, “If you have time, I would like for you to share some of your knowledge with me.” Be prepared and be very intentional. Set expectations for yourself and know what you want from that person before you approach them.
The word intentional is great. And, yes, it is the responsibility of the mentee to reach out. As I said, when Coleysia and I met she was very direct in asking me to be her mentor. She is always prepared with something specific she wants to talk about. Again, that always leads to me asking questions and learning from her as well. Identify what you need from the relationship and the professional, and then identify who could best help you achieve that. I was very flattered to be asked to be her mentor. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional and to make that ask, because they should be extremely flattered they are being asked to serve in that role. With that comes the responsibility of making and sharing time, and appreciating the co-mentoring relationship that is a win-win for both of you.
Momentum offers mentor matching as a free service to our community. If you are interested in learning more about the program and being paired with a mentor, click here for more information.