It’s been a month since I returned from 2015 ColorComm Conference (C2), the annual event that focuses on women of color in the field of communications. C2, brain-child of founder Lauren Wesley Wilson created as a way of taking networking to a deeper level, and began as a small, invite-only luncheon in 2011. It has now celebrated its second year as an annual, 3-day nationwide convergence of U.S.-based communications professionals.
If you ask a women of color in communications how difficult is it to successfully straddle the business world and the world that she comes from, and she feels safe enough to share her unfiltered career journey, get comfortable and take copious notes.
Consequently, there is one word that sums up my experience at C2 2015: Affirmation.
We typically receive affirmation throughout our lives in bite-sized pieces from parents, siblings, family, friends, teachers, coaches, mentors, professors, significant others, children, managers, colleagues, etc. C2 was different. It is one of those rare occasions where over 300 professional women in a safe environment felt encouraged enough to bring their authentic selves, shared their journeys, pearls of wisdom, life lessons, and experiences in a way that was life affirming and nourishing, both professionally and personally.
Throughout the three-day conference, we had the opportunity to hear from industry powerhouses such as keynote speaker Gloria Steinem, pioneer of the feminist movement. With gender pay parity still an issue, Gloria’s stance of more than 40 years ago remains relevant today. We were inspired by Lisa Ling, the award-winning journalist, writer and host of CNN’s This is Life with Lisa Ling, and legendary Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and president emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College.
A personal highlight of the conference was the honor of being onstage as a member of “The Godmother Part II” panel discussion which highlighted divergent views on mentorship. I was joined by Marvet Britto, president and CEO, The Britto Agency; Susan Jin Davis, SVP, Operations Compliance, Comcast; and Christy Haubegger, agent, Creative Artist Agency and founder, Latina Magazine. The panelists voiced strong opinions on opposing sides; some stressed the importance of having a guiding force of experience to support your career journey, and others stressed how critical it is to believe in your own ability to succeed regardless of whether you have a mentor.
Our Moderator, Intel VP Rosalind Hudnell, expertly introduced “Godmother” in corporations as a new language and a natural evolution from mentor and sponsor.
In my opinion and what I shared with the audience, once you consistently demonstrate key attributes, your Godmother/father will find you. Those attributes include to:
- Be hungry. Hungry to learn. Hungry to experience by doing
- Work smart. Do good work. Keep your word
- Keep a positive attitude; ask for more
If you want to be a Godmother/father or want to find one, the role is to:
- Have a real connection – concern for your future
- Be close enough to observe your performance but distance enough to provide objective, unfiltered guidance
- Speak/represent you when you’re not in the room
- Challenge and expect more of you than you think is possible
- Have your back without judgment when you need uplifting – Note: I did not say clean up your mess!
As I thought about the Godmothers I’ve had in my career, they fit in three categories.
First, Godmother Earth. This person should be tenured and/or senior in your field of choice to help you develop your expertise, by carefully developing your skills through the four phases of learning, (learning, refining, proficiency, mastery). She can help to identify cultural tripwires to avoid and connect dots for you to help develop your ability to think and act strategically.
Godmother Earth will represent you when you’re not in the room by keeping your name trending and making sure you get the highly visible opportunities. And equally important, she can make sure you get the same “passes” other top talent get when they drop the ball.
Second, Godmother Wind. This person should be in the industry of your employer, to teach you the business of the business that you’re in. She can explain how your organization makes money, makes decisions, and brings its culture to life, as this information will empower you.
Third, Godmother Fire. The person should be outside of your field and industry, to provide an outside in perspective and broaden your horizons. And talk you off the ledge when you are at a breaking point and help you decide if the grass is greener.
I think Godmothers/fathers have shelf life. That doesn’t mean that your relationship has to end but your needs will change so, closely monitor your career for whether your Earth, Wind and Fire are aligned. If yes, chances are your need for affirmation is being met.
Sharon V. Jones is a Senior Vice president, Director, Human Resources overseeing Ketchum Washington, DC, Dallas, and Atlanta which is her home office. She also is Director of Diversity & Inclusion for Ketchum North America.