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Latina Executives 2004

Mentoring in Corporate America

Of the 2004 LATINA Style 50 — an annual survey of the top 50 companies for Latinas to work for in the United States — several companies stand out for their commitment to employee career development via mentoring programs. This commitment is manifested in several ways — through internal programs, partnerships with national mentoring firms, and executive officials who oversee the programs’ agenda and initiatives.

Of the over 300 women who participate in one of General Mills’ mentoring programs, 10 percent are Hispanic. General Mills encourages all new employees to participate in its Corporate Diversity Mentoring Program, and mid- to upper-level management in its Co-Mentoring Program.

At Federated Department Stores, Inc., a solid 43 percent of minority employees that take advantage of the company’s mentoring programs are Hispanic. The company has established mentoring circles, which consist of three mentors, a Human Resources Facilitator and up to 10 mentees, to guide selected employees through their careers. “This opportunity is very rewarding,” says Marlene Montoya, a regional logistics manager of operations for Macy’s who is a mentor in a FDS mentoring circle, “Watching various mentees go on to succeed gives me more drive to succeed in my own capacity.”

Verizon Communications, Inc. also utilizes mentoring circles in addition to one-on-one mentoring and shadowing, which permits mid-level mentees to observe multiple senior officials. Maria Cruz, an executive director for corporate sourcing at Verizon, is one of 719 mentors that lead 1,845 mentees. She sees Verizon’s dedication to mentoring as “one way of ensuring that employees make the most of their potential and contribute to the success of the company.”

IBM Corporation’s “La Red” is a specially designed mentoring program that caters to the company’s Hispanic women employees. More than 1,000 Latinas at IBM globally are involved with the programs, which is divided into three specialized groups for all career levels. One of IBM’s most influential Latinas, Miriam Briggs, vice president of marketing and strategic growth initiatives, states that the company is “moving beyond traditional mentoring to experiment with alternative approaches.”

Other companies have decided to use a more conventional one-on-one format for mentoring. The Hispanic Associates Network (HAN) mentoring program at Sears, Roebuck & Co., Inc. is a prime example of the company’s efforts to strengthen its Hispanic workforce. Members of the network are paired with senior executive mentors for the purpose of development in a specific area. Since joining the company in 2001, Sandra Diaz has been promoted from manager to director of multicultural marketing. According to Diaz, the one-on-one mentoring networks at Sears “serve as business advisors to the company and provide a great opportunity to build relationships and connect with fellow employees.”

Following another growing trend, many big businesses are partnering with external firms that specialize in mentorship strategies and initiatives, like WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. and MENTTIUM Corporation. Constantly developing new methods of integrating various areas of business with mentorship, these organizations have provided the footprints for pioneering workplace communication and interface. After noticing that very few women were succeeding despite the increase of their presence in the business industry, Jean Otte, founder and CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, decided to create a program through which women could come together and discuss their career goals. To date, more than 4000 women have gone through the programs, which are designed to provide mentoring and networking opportunities for women who would not otherwise have such opportunities.

Rosina Racioppi, the president and COO of WOMEN Unlimited Inc., has been with the company for eight out of the 10 years it has been in existence. The goal of WOMEN Unlimited is “to make the program as diverse as possible” says Racioppi. The company asks global corporations to select prominent women to participate in each of the three programs — TEAM, for newly hired women employees; LEAD, for mid level women employees; and FEW, for executive or senior women officials. After completing initial mentoring sessions, the women return to the companies with an enhanced talent for contributing to the company.

The basic principle of mentorship is that one’s accomplishments and failures are life lessons for others. Though mentorship by definition involves interaction with another person or group, companies directly associate mentoring with individual performance and experience. The principles and ideals of mentoring programs are similar, but the success of programs depends on the individual’s desire to thrive in the workplace.

The high participation level in corporate mentoring programs is proof enough that employees appreciate the programs, as they experience job promotions, skill and knowledge acquisition, and individual goal accomplishments. Consider the experiences of successful Hispanic women working in corporate America and heed their advice.

Says Briggs, “Whether it’s by providing guidance to those new executives coming in or assisting an experienced executive [in making] a career changing decision, it is extremely important for Latinas and women of all cultures to stand together and encourage each other. By communicating … we help each other get through major obstacles so that we can all look back one day and see the strides we’ve accomplished together to provide a better working environment.”

by Diana Rosado

[This article has been edited for www.latinastyle.com.
For the full version, check out the 2004 September/October issue of LATINA Style.]