Mentoring, Sponsoring and Leading by Ivette Donado

Mentoring, Sponsoring and Leading By Yvette Donado

Ask a successful Latina what propelled her to success, and she is likely to mention having had a good mentor – or good mentors. Conferences, training and other Latino gatherings increasingly offer sessions on mentoring. Bravo! Mentoring is an easily accessible tool to help Latinas and Latinos advance into leadership roles.

With 25 years in the corporate world and now 12 years in nonprofit human resource management at Educational Testing Service (ETS), I have had wonderful mentors and now mentor others. Along the way, I have learned a good deal. Here is my take.

First, mentoring takes many forms. Some organizations, large nonprofits like ETS, and corporations, often have formal mentoring programs. These are fine, worthwhile services. They usually pair peers or colleagues, however, and fail to take advantage of valuable mentor-mentee relationships beyond the workplace.

Second, a mentor need not be a peer or colleague. Among my mentors was a Cuban-American shop owner where I grew up in New York City. He had little formal education, and imparted wisdom gained from his “Ph.D. of the streets.” Along with my parents, who also lacked formal education, he inculcated in me the importance of education, taking tests, retaining Spanish and valuing my Latino culture.

My second mentor was my first boss. He took a risk, hiring a young, ambitious sociology major as the head of human resources for his start-up in Manhattan. I like to think that his mentorship and my will to serve were key factors in turning that company into a successful worldwide operation.

At that company, and particularly since joining ETS in 2001, I was lucky to get training in HR and other areas. One thing I learned was the value of “sponsorship.” It differs from mentorship in that a mentor can be anyone, while a sponsor becomes an advocate for the sponsoree within the organization.

This means looking out for opportunities to position an employee, whether at a social event, a key meeting, or to engage senior managers. It means sharing knowledge (information is power) so that the sponsoree is informed, aware of the latest developments, and able to engage peers and superiors on the issues of the day.

Today, I take great satisfaction in knowing that my mentees and sponsorees value what I am able to do for them. And it is rewarding to know that they are developing well as the next leaders in ETS and in their communities.

As noted, a mentor need not be a colleague or peer, or Latino, for that matter. A mentor offers wisdom, another perspective, another set of experiences and values. She or he can be from any walk of life — a laborer or a Nobel-worthy scientist. The key is that other points of view, based on other experiences, add value to a mentee’s outlook, plans and ambitions.

Finally, mentors and sponsors recognize the tremendous service that they provide and that they gain, too. Mentorship and sponsorship are rewarding! Yes, there is enormous satisfaction in knowing that a younger person prevailed and succeeded against all odds because of the information — the wisdom — imparted.

Having spoken recently to many interns, fellows and scholarship recipients, I am impressed by their intelligence, will to serve and ambition. Most have had mentors; some have not. They are the future leaders. For us to gain the most from our emerging leaders, we must all guide, nurture and encourage them. Our communities — and our nation — will be the better for it.

Yvette Donado is the Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Vice President for People, Process and Communications at Educational Testing Service, Princeton, N.J.

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