Thursday’s BEYA STEM webinar featuring Stephanie C. Hill focused on mentoring in the workplace. Hill, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems and Global Solutions Civil business, spoke about mentor roles and mentoring relationships that contribute to career growth.
According to Tyrone Taborn, host of the BEYA Webinar series and founder of the 29th annual BEYA STEM Conference, mentoring has been a recurring theme for many Black Engineer of the Year Award winners. Hill is the 2014 Black Engineer of the Year.
At a weekend event for Rodney Adkins, the 2007 Black Engineer of the Year who served 33 years at IBM and retired last year as a senior vice president of Corporate Strategy, Taborn said he noted that everyone talked about how Adkins had mentored so many people along the way.
“Like Rod, good mentors create a safe place to ask questions, get answers – not corporate speak, and learn unwritten rules to help people navigate either in a new environment or as the mood changes,” Hill said.
She also observed that a lot of companies have formalized mentoring programs where they pair early-career employees with middle managers, executives and technical experts. Over 28 years at Lockheed Martin, Hill said she has had incredible mentors.
“People who told it to me straight to guide me along; told me when I got it right, or when I got it wrong,” she said.
Most importantly she added was knowing they would be there to help her fix problems and move on to the next challenge.
“As companies, we have an obligation not only to make ourselves available but to establish programs and join with organizations that have mentoring programs. Lockheed Martin has a number of these with schools to inspire, encourage, and light the way for young people, which will make a difference in our nation, and the STEM pipeline,” she said.
About a month ago, Hill recalled taking a call from a female engineering student at Tuskegee University. While in freshman year, the student had a number of other Black women in her class, but as a junior she now felt alone. Even though her male classmates were not purposely ostracizing her she wasn’t sure she had the support to make it in engineering.
“We talked about resources available through mentoring, guidance and career counseling,” Hill said. “She was able to connect, find somebody she could turn to and ensure she finishes her degree and continue to an engineering career.”
That’s the power of Lockheed’s support to BEYA and Women of Color conferences, Taborn said.
“It’s made sure so many individuals attend the events and get access to a trusted community,” he added. It’s important to have a mentor and informal mentoring opportunities, people you can turn to and are part of your professional convoy.
“When you go to BEYA, which has so many resources, get to know other attendees, see what their background is. Because even if you don’t have a question today, you might think back to that connection,” Hill advised. “BEYA is such a community of like-minded people that person more than likely will take your call,” she said.
In her experience, some of the best mentoring relationships emerge from finding someone you look up to and trust.
“When you can open yourself to real feedback in a safe mentoring environment,” she explained.
Years before, Hill shared how she turned down a job offer in Lockheed Martin and got a call from one of her trusted mentors, Art Johnson, the 1997 Black Engineer of the Year. Johnson retired as senior vice president from Lockheed Martin with over 20 years of senior leadership experience in the information technology and defense businesses.
“Art said: ‘Stephanie before you ever do anything like that again make sure you call me first,'” Hill recalled. “Mentoring has had a huge impact along my career path. I can remember even before that growing up my father used to saying to me ‘Stephanie, everybody needs someone to whom they can turn.'”
Establishing trusted relationships, making sure there’s someone who cares about your well being, that you could talk to when things were happening or had happened is essentially what mentoring is all about. Hill said. She also likened mentoring to sage advice, the kind she saw her mother dish out –generous counsel that kept friends coming back.