Empower Asian-Pacific Americans Through Mentoring

Only 39 percent of surveyed Asian-Pacific Americans at Fortune 500 companies have sponsors or mentors, according to Asia Society’s 2012 Asian-Pacific Americans Corporate Survey. Why is this percentage so low, when there’s evidence that mentors and sponsors speed progression into senior roles within corporations? Does the culture dissuade people from seeking help? Is this seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of proficiency or expertise?

Whatever the reason, the droves of Asian-Pacific American employees at entry levels who arrive with credentials from their country’s best universities do not move up the ranks in nearly the same proportion.

While there are many facets of the corporate culture that should be addressed, there are also certain steps Asian-Pacific American employees can take to proactively secure mentors and sponsors.

• Self-awareness of one’s skills and capabilities and their relevance to the organization must exist. Whether through self-assessments, tests or other tools, it’s important to have a sense of where development is needed or desired.

• A willingness to go beyond one’s job scope and task to think strategically about how to add value more broadly to other teams, business groups and colleagues, shows both innovative skills and risk-taking instincts. Mentoring and sponsorship is a two-way street; therefore it’s important to consider what one can bring to the table to one’s mentor or sponsor.

• Recognize that mentors and sponsors can be found up, down and across an organization, who can offer critical feedback and act as broadcasters of success. Think of it as building a network of advocates so that one need not rely on just a single person to amplify accomplishments. Imagine a whole group of colleagues, subordinates and other leaders who know of an employee’s accomplishments and felt compelled to acknowledge it in forums where they may or may not be present.

• The scarcity mentality that drives women, Asian-Pacific Americans and other underrepresented minorities to act as though there is only room for one “diverse” person at the top has to be eliminated. If white men believed that, one can imagine there would be many fewer white male CEOs.

• Look for opportunities to be a mentor or sponsor and recognize colleagues across the organization. This will help develop skills, but also provide critical insight into what’s required of a mentor or sponsor relationship.

With the intellect, talent and work ethic that Asian-Pacific Americans exhibit in the workplace, adding the mentor/sponsor element should create quick and measurable progress and success. While there is still work to be done to ensure overall equality in the workplace, it’s critical that diversity executives empower Asian-Pacific American employees to take these proactive steps themselves to create and foster career-critical relationships.

Subha Barry is a diversity and inclusion expert, and most recently chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.