Last week in San Francisco, my second favorite city (Copenhagen is my first), I attended the second annual AfroTech conference. AfroTech brought together influencers, change makers, entrepreneurs and techies from across the country to network and share experiences in the tech industry. This trip originally began as a visit to see friends, including two of my former classmates from the executive MHA program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; however, it morphed into something much more magical.
I arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday, and on Thursday, I was with AfroTech attendees at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, hearing from venture capitalists (VCs) and inquiring about any new health ventures. Following the event, I co-hosted a public health happy hour at Dirty Water for Bay Area Mailman alumni with Vanessa Mason, co-founder of P2Health, a public health venture firm. The evening was a huge success and I was excited for the next two days of AfroTech, where I would hear from a host of VCs, entrepreneurs, policy makers and influencers.
Some of the most influential companies were at the conference, including Johnson & Johnson, Twitter, Tinder, Facebook and Amazon. I was intrigued when speaking with people from these various tech companies, because I am constantly learning how other companies approach problem solving. In this way, I had the opportunity to conduct mini “innovisits” with these companies. Plus, I couldn’t contain my excitement from seeing J&J, the only healthcare company, and questioning the Amazon reps to find out what Jeff Bezos would do in healthcare.
On the first day of AfroTech, Mandela SH Dixon, a startup veteran and one of the emcees, told us to have our “gem buckets” ready for all of the gems we’d drop in there. Since my birthstone is emerald, that has to be the best gemstone. I received an emerald from a J&J Vice President, who said (paraphrase) mentorship is good, but sponsorship is what you need. In my career, I made sure to always have mentoring, but I had not focused on sponsorship.
Sponsorship is having a very senior person at your company who advocates for you and your career within the company. A sponsor is usually two to three levels above your position. Sponsorship is more transactional, because you need to identify clear goals for your sponsor to help you in growing your career. In a relationship based world, mentorship is not enough, we need sponsors to get us in front of the right people to further our careers. The Society from Human Resource Management (SHRM), reported that 30 percent of all hires overall in 2016 resulted from employee referrals and 45 percent resulted from internal hires.
After thinking about what mentorship and sponsorship means for my career, I reflected on my own experience mentoring first year public health students at Mailman. They often come in for interview or career advice, which I am happy to deliver, but now I am thinking about the next level, going from mentorship to sponsorship. How can I sponsor someone in her career and truly create opportunities for growth, development and mobility? On the other hand, from the perspective of a seeking a sponsor, how can I: 1. Find a sponsor 2. Use her valuable time effectively and 3. Position myself for the career I want.
Here are Tsahia's Top Five Steps:
1. Observe – your company’s leaders and take the time to determine the right fit. Look at least two to three levels above you. Be sure to choose sponsors who can push your career forward. Don’t just choose like-minded people, but choose those who can stretch and challenge you in your career.
2. Commit - to the process and do the work. In this phase, work on building trust. Neither mentors nor sponsors will commit to your success, unless you commit to the process and prove yourself.
3. Ask – and have specific goals. Don’t come to a sponsor as a jack of all trades. Let them know exactly what you want, so they can provide the right opportunities and assignments. Understand where your mission, vision and values are aligned.
4. Do - the work that’s required. You should have more than one sponsor, which means there will be a lot of work. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting someone's time.
5. Pay It Forward – and multiply the work of your sponsors. They aren’t in it for an ego boost. Sponsorship makes you look great but the work supports the company’s mission, work and succession planning.