Tag: mentor

Meet Mentor/Mentee Pair Joy Carter and Coleysia Chestnut

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?

Coleysia:

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. 

Joy:

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? 

Joy:

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. 

Coleysia:

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?

Joy:

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. 

Coleysia:

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?

Coleysia:

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. 

Joy:

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?

Coleysia:

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. 

Joy:

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.

Mentoring Success Story

Lots of companies have mentoring programs, but it’s not always easy to find one that works. Momentum’s mentoring program has had great success for four main reasons.

  1. Momentum has a network of over 350 accomplished women graduates to choose from, so finding a good match is  less onerous than in a company setting where the pool of high-ranking women may be smaller.
  2. Most women that come through our program can cite several mentors in their own lives. They are most often men. Of course men make great mentors and those relationships are important. At the same time, having a woman mentor means someone who understands first-hand some of the unique challenges career women face, such as unconscious bias, wage gaps, family planning and extended family care.
  3. Our  network of potential mentors come from many different companies and represent a broad range of industries and roles. This diversity has real advantages over having a mentor from within the same company.
  4. All participants in the mentor program, mentors and mentees alike, receive training on how to set some goals and parameters. This training is very helpful in making sure both parties understand what they are trying to achieve and by when.

Currently we work with organizations like Girls Inc., area colleges, organizations for young professionals, and Momentum corporate partners to pair our graduates with young women seeking mentors. For example, last year we teamed up Momentum graduate and entrepreneur Jennifer Skjellum with a young Executive Property Manager for Davis Management, Molly Shuster.

Molly shared this with Momentum about the experience:

“Simply saying ‘thank you’ to Momentum for pairing me with Jennifer doesn’t feel like enough. Jennifer’s mentorship has developed into a friendship that I know will carry on for years to come; the guidance Jennifer provides both professionally and personally is the best gift I could ask for, and I encourage others to seek the same through this program. As a young woman, having an experienced professional you can look up to and call on with questions, knowing you will receive solid answers, is an advantage I encourage others to find. To be honest, I cannot recommend this program enough – it has been a wonderful experience.”

The benefits of mentoring are reserved for the mentee. There’s a lot in it for the mentor too, according to Jennifer:

“After graduating from Momentum I joined the Momentum Alumna Program (MAP) to continue my relationship with the organization and with the people I met through the program. I also joined so that I could take advantage of the opportunity to be placed as a mentor.  Mentoring, networking, and relationship-building are the benefits of MAP that are most important to me.  As a successful woman, I enjoy motivating and mentoring others. I also feel an obligation to help ensure the next generation of professional women have the opportunity to advance further than I have.

I was matched with Molly Shuster. Over the past nine months of getting to know her, I gained a new friend, a better sense of self and have become a better listener.  It has been fulfilling to leverage my experience and networks to benefit another person. “

About Molly: 

Molly Shuster is the Executive Property Manager for Davis Management, Inc. in Birmingham, AL. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2016 and looks forward to continuing her experience with an emphasis on Birmingham’s growing real estate market.

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Skjellum is an entrepreneur, educator and ecosystem builder.  Her 25 year career includes experience building companies, building educational programs for undergraduates and professionals, and most recently leading a nonprofit organization with the mission of growing and strengthening the technology ecosystem in Birmingham, Alabama region.

Mentorship: a workplace necessity or a necessity for success?

For the community of business professionals, the idea of mentorship is a hot topic, especially when discussing women in the workplace. We are all aware of the “leaky chasm” where more women are graduating from university than ever before and yet the number of executive leaders is slim. Mikki Taylor, a well-known writer and speaker, said that “many women live like it’s a dress rehearsal. Ladies, the curtain is up and you’re on.” In view of mentoring, it is important for women to take their steps with purpose. It is time we become bold and seek out mentors and mentees. Mentoring future women leaders is a necessity for the workplace as well as personal success.

According to Forbes,  only fifty-four percent of women have access to senior leaders who act as mentors or informal sponsors. The lack of mentors for women is believed to be one of the major reasons we don’t see more women in leadership. Increasingly data show that when more women sit at the decision-making tables, better decisions are made. In order to continue fostering growth, women must begin asking for help and sharing their insight. Mentorship is a wonderful path to begin paving better roads for the future of equality in leadership.

There are countless benefits for both parties involved in a mentoring relationship. According to a recent Forbes article, “it is a broader network of relationships and circumstances that shape individual success.” With many decisions that are made, there are discussions that come before them. When making a change in career choice, almost everyone will phone a trusted friend to hear his or her input and discuss options and concerns. Mentoring is important because there is an educated decision to trust someone who has more experience, a different perspective, and wise recommendations. While the responsibility for life decisions ultimately resides within each of us, we are wise to seek counsel from someone with experience in the issues we face.

The value of mentoring is a two way street, with mentors standing to benefit from the relationship as well. According to a Forbes article, the benefits of  mentoring include new insights into the workforce, valuable connections, new perspective, and the personal satisfaction of sharing experiences. In addition to the personal and professional benefits of a mentor relationship, those who mentor are twenty percent more like to receive a raise.

The guidance, honesty, and input of a mentor can help a mentee become their achieve their personal best. Many mentees desire this relationship to gain knowledge and a specific skill set, but this article points out that they also often receive a broadened perspective, gain connections, learn more about business politics, and gain the confidence to stand on their own. For young professionals who may feel inadequate, take the advice of Sara Blakely, the Founder of Spanx: “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know because it can also be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”

A three-tiered mentoring program is an essential part of Momentum’s mission to advance women in leadership. Each year we pair class participants with senior mentors. Upon graduation, participants receive training on successful mentoring and are paired with a teen, college student, or young professional looking for a mentor. Momentum has fostered over 800 mentoring relationships to date.

If you have experiences, opinions or advice on mentoring, we’d love to see your comments here.