The Importance of Professional Development and Mentorship
In this episode, herdacious host Lorelei chats with Telesa Via about the effects of authentic mentorship and how prioritizing your own professional development will lead to greater career success. With the countless trailblazing women in the workforce today, Telesa relays the benefits of connecting with these women who can act as a source of guidance on our career journeys. From recognizing the red flags of unconscious bias in mentorship to making bold “asks” from the get go, Telesa reminds us that our career trajectories need not be travelled alone but in the company of women willing to drive us to the top alongside them!
Host: Lorelei Gonzalez
Co-host: Telesa Via
Telesa Via is the Vice President of Sales at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants where she oversees sales activities from coast to coast and beyond, within North America. Her latest endeavor is co-chairing Kimpton’s newest internal committee, Black Lives Matter: Act to Action where she leads a diverse Kimpton committee, takes action to create real change and promotes opportunities and advancement for Black People and People of Color. She is a member of the American Society of Association Executives, Professional Conference Management Association and International Association of Exhibition Executives, among others.
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Resources mentioned in this episode:
Looking for additional resources on this topic? Check out our webinar “Leadership through Virtual Mentorship | Lesley Robinson”
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Sponsor: Today's episode is brought to you by HERdacity. HERdacity is a non-profit inspiring confidence in women to achieve their professional goals. For resources, networking opportunities, and a strong community of women visit herdacity.org to learn more.
Lorelei: Welcome to HERdacious, a podcast for audacious women. A warm welcome to everyone listening, this is HERdacious and I'm Lorelei the host of HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women looking for a little bit of career support on their journeys forward. Today, we're gonna be talking about the prioritization of professional development and mentorship for women in their careers. Now, joining me in this epic conversation, I have the Vice President of Sales for Kimpton hotels and restaurants, and the co-leader of the Black Lives Matter Act to Action initiative for the hotel brand, Kimpton Hotels and restaurants. The vivacious Telesa Via.
Telesa: Oh my goodness, it is so good to be here.
Lorelei: I'm so excited to have you and I'm so excited to have this conversation, because we all know how important prioritizing professional development is to a woman advancing her career.
Telesa: You are so right. And in my opinion, it is my top priority, so I'm so excited to be with you today to talk about it.
Lorelei: Let's get started. So professional development, share with us a bit about your professional development story and why this became a point of interest in advocacy for you.
Telesa: You know, if I were to tell you my whole story we would be here for a while, and I don't think you have that much time, so I'll bring it down little bit. But I will tell you, I personally am from a very small rural area, and the exposure that I had growing up was very limited, I went to a pretty good school, went to University of Virginia for my undergraduate studies, and then I went right into the workforce. My reason of saying that is I did not have a lot of women and mentorship opportunities growing up. So all that I had, in my opinion, was myself and my family. And I didn't necessarily know the career field I wanted to be in, and I got to this point where I met this woman who just, I guess really took to me. And from that point forward, my life has been forever changed because of her interest in me and all of the things that she brought. So just to give you a little bit more information, I started up in the hospitality industry over 20 years ago, and I had a female boss who told me that I could not become a vice president of sales in the industry. One woman who is now my forever mentor changed my life. And today I am where I am because of her. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here talking to you today. That mentorship opportunity and what she did for me completely changed my life.
Lorelei: Wow. What I'm hearing from you is that this specific female mentor was incredibly vital to your career success and your trajectory overall. Share a little bit more about the importance specifically for women to have other women support them in their workplace journey.
Telesa: There is power in the pack, and by that, I mean there's power in the pack when women stand together, you have to realize that strength makes the table better, it makes the company more profitable, it makes better decisions, and it truly makes a difference in how things are operated.
Lorelei: When we're talking about the female community as a whole, what was the effect of your networking.
Telesa: The power of networking and how it opens up... It's absolutely the most powerful thing that you can ever think of. Let me also just put this into perspective for you. Since my first job, and this is probably over-simplifying it, since my first job in the hospitality industry, every single position that I've received has been because of another woman opening up a door for me and helping to get me that job.
Telesa: Now, that is the power of a woman.
Lorelei: I love that. Alright, strong woman, you have just set me up for another question. When strong women assert themselves in the workplace... Okay, I'm bringing it back to professional development here... When strong women assert themselves in the workplace through prioritizing themselves and their own development over the caretaking or the emotional labor or the other types of stereotype expectations of working women. What can women expect?
Telesa: Well, I have a story regarding this, an example of a job that I started. I was new to the company at that time, and while I did not have children, I did have a husband, and a mother that had been diagnosed with cancer and many other family challenges that I had to deal with. So as a woman, we go to the caregiver role, and that is extremely important to me now. First and foremost I will say when I started this particular position, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, they said to me from the very beginning, you take the time off that you need to go take care of your mom, which was extremely important to me. However, the person that I am wouldn't allow me to take the time off, I will not take my time off because I had a job to do now while I was dealing with trying to take care of my mom. I had this other side that I was dealing with and I stepped into a position where I was judged as being too strong and too overwhelming and to direct, and I honestly didn't fit in at the very beginning, and I was not accustomed to that, so at this point, I had to balance what I needed to do outside of work and what I was dealing with as it relates to the perception.
And what's so interesting is that the gentleman that sat right beside me would say the same thing. That would be perceived completely differently, and so what I had to do was to put on my Telesa hat and think about a lot of the important things that we as women, have to deal with and make a decision of moving this forward, and low and behold, within the next year, I actually got a promotion. So I had to take something that was probably one of my lowest moments professionally, because I didn't have the support of the people around me and they had this perception of me that I was too extreme, and I say extreme is just passionate. It's the same thing that the gentleman right beside me has, but he's better received. However, I took that, compiled it together, put together a strategy, and people bought into who I am and where I am, and I truly began to sit in the center of the boardroom table and people listened and changed for me. It was a beautiful thing, but it was hard at the very beginning because I was stereotyped as someone who is too extreme.
Lorelei: What was some of that strategy that you put together to overcome some of the negative perceptions that people had of you?
Telesa: What I had to do was when I come into a company, I had to look at my networking. I always say, I have to work out and I have to work up. So what I started to do was connect with people that were my peers, and when I say connect, have them to get to know me and have them to understand what my plan was. That when I'm sitting in a meeting, communicating whatever that message is, that I have their buy-in. Because they know what the depth of my plan is, so once I actually met with those that may be reported to me, met with my peers, and then I actually manage myself up, those things started to change because then I was somehow valid. But before, when they didn't know me, my validity just didn't seem to be there, or at least that's what I thought.
Lorelei: So you had to act with a lot of intention around engaging with your peers in an intentional way and making sure that you were prioritizing your own strategy for success in your career. Do you have advice for other women who are looking to transition from putting other people first and maybe like the team perspective to a self-centric prioritization?
Telesa: You know, it's such a great question. I will tell you, I think Covid has allowed us to think about things so differently today. I know for me, it definitely has, and what I would say to other women is that there is no team without thinking about I first. You heard what I said, there's no team without thinking about I first. In a team environment, it is important that everyone work together, but you can't even begin that process if you don't start with I and with me. There's something to be said about your mental state and what you think about yourself, how you perceive yourself and prioritize yourself, and if you're not sitting in that space, then your end results are not at the level of your expectations. If you don't take the opportunity to remember and start your day off with those things that are important to you, whether it's meditation or whatever it may be, to get you in the right space, the rest of your day is operated completely differently. My suggestion for everyone is to be very clear and very intentional of making yourself a priority. It's just as if you were preparing for a meeting, something that is extremely important to your career, that same initiative and goal and desire and energy should be put towards your priorities keeping your health in the right place, keeping your mind in the right place and keeping your physical being in the right place.
Trust me when I say if you don't have that in place, some of these other things that are your priority are not executed on the same level. Remember, although there's no I in team, I cannot do anything with the team until I take care of myself.
Lorelei: I love it. Oh my gosh. Now, in order to take care of ourselves, we're gonna take a quick moment for the sponsor break.
Sponsor: Hi, Barbie here from Moonray, husband and wife indie-duo. If you enjoy the intro music, we invite you to listen to our debut EP Honeymoon. Streaming now on all platforms. Visit, www.moonray-msuc.com for more.
Lorelei: And we're back with Telesa Via talking about the prioritization of professional development and mentorship amongst women. Alright, Telesa, we're getting our ducks in a row, we are focusing more on ourselves, we are prioritizing ourself, both our personal self and our professional self, so now that the prioritization, that mindset shift has occurred, what are some of the ways we can start to professionally develop ourselves in the workplace? What sorts of opportunities might we be looking for and what sort of doors do we need to open ourselves?
Telesa: I would strongly suggest that everyone finds a mentor. A mentor doesn't have to be same sex, it doesn't have to be the same discipline, but this person, if they are someone who has years of experience above you, can provide you with all of these opportunities and knowledge that you may not have exposure to. In addition to that, that person calls you out when you need to be called out, challenges you when you need to be challenged. And also serves as a reference when that's necessary. For me, my mentorship with my two mentors have made the largest impact. What's so beautiful about that, and my experience is that when I first started in the industry, I would actually share with people who my mentors are, it miraculously opened doors for me. So fortunately, I picked the right two, and I'm hoping that it'll do the same for others. The other thing that I would strongly suggest is having a clear understanding of what is offered by your company from a development perspective. What courses are out there that you can take to get exposure, or you don't even have to pay or take anything out of your pocket to be able to get additional exposure.
And then I would say to you, the third thing is, ask for what you want. Oftentimes, as women, and this has been my challenge over time, that I have been the one who will say, "Let me wait for someone to tell me what to do, what to ask for, what program to do," and sitting here today as a woman, as a vice president of sales for a wonderful brand, I will just tell you, now I ask for what I want. I do not wait for someone to tell me that they're ready for me, because I work as if I'm already in my next level, so I know I'm right. Now, I motive myself an opportunity that makes a bigger impact, whether that's continuing education or a project that I may be working on, but I no longer wait, I now ask. Better yet, sometimes demand.
Lorelei: Well, speaking of the ask, Do you think that professional development ask could be made at the beginning of your employment built into part of your negotiation for the role?
Telesa: Oh my goodness, this is a perfect question. And the answer is yes. I strongly believe that as you are in the initial process, that should be 100% part of your package that you're asking for. Oftentimes it's something that we don't think about because we feel that may be asking for too much, or that may not be available, but I will tell you the last five people that I've actually mentored through this process, out of the five people that I talk to that I suggested for them to ask, all five of them got what they were asking for in their offer process, so it's there. Sometimes we just don't ask for it, but when we do ask for it, we get it. What's so amazing about that is that when you ask that person on the receiving side actually gives you another check on being strong enough to be able to ask, and sometimes they actually don't have a program, but because they want you they go and find one. So you get not only the ability to be able to be seen as someone who's strong and knows what they want, but two sometimes they get an opportunity to make their programming better. For the other employees, so not only do you make a change for yourself, but in some cases, you're making changes for others, specifically other women, don't be shy and as they can only tell you No.
Lorelei: And one of the things that I would advocate for is to be mindful that maybe they don't give you the full salary ask that you might make, but you might get that development ask in your professional development, and you can take that professional development on with you to your next career, to your next job, and then you'll get that monetary bump for sure.
Telesa: Absolutely, and that's what you're looking for in this process. This is a partnership that, is like, "How can you invest in me, I'm going to give you times a thousand," but the beautiful thing of why I actually ask people to ask in their interview process is because you're making an investment for life that you don't have to take out of your own pocket, so that is a huge win personally. But professionally, that company gets rewarded by investing in you, their return on investment is going to be even more than the next person who did not ask, so I totally concur. It's a lifetime investment. And you take it wherever you go.
Lorelei: Well, when it comes to investment, I want to bring it back to the mentorship sponsorship conversation and investing in others, bringing others up with you, how do you think those roles play into a woman's career trajectory in general?
Telesa: I wanted to just kind of share a story as it relates to the mentorship. I have a young lady that I actually work with, and that's on my team, and actually two women specifically that came in and started working with me right out of school. What's so amazing about these two women is that there are probably two of the strongest women that I have worked for, and they're in their 20's. My point of saying that is that what I give and gift them, I see them gifting to others. I can stand back and see the impact of all of these other women, and as I rise up and grow, their positions are doing the same thing. So there's this process, there's this picture that's out there that you can see your work as you're doing this. The other thing I would just say from a mentorship perspective is that it has to come from the heart. It has to come because you want to, not because it's something that's mandated to do, people can tell when you're genuine and their interest of growth, and people can tell when you're not.
And last but not least, I was talking to this gentleman recently, and he said, "I have thousands and thousands of mentees." Now he's retired, so that's where his thousands come into play. What my point is, what's so amazing about this gentleman is that he knows almost every single person's name that he's touched, and the reason that I say that is because authenticity is so key in this process. While you are focused on teaching the discipline and helping to teach the strategy and the process, there are some of those things that you have to also teach as well, specifically as women, and that is the value of the first impression, how do you come to the table to present four board meetings? How many chances do I get if I feel it's something, how do I course correct myself so that I can bounce back and come back even better... And so in mentorship, you have to be mindful that it's not just about the textbook part, but it's about the human part, so that you are positioned in a way to be heard and to be seen. But when you fail, what you need to do to pick yourself back up, because in a lot of cases, when people fall down, they don't know how to get up, and that is what's key. 'Cause let's just face it, we all make mistakes, those people that are naturally connected and genuinely there to be your mentor will help to pick you up.
Lorelei: I wanna pick up on something that you mentioned just a minute ago about impressions, and I think that takes us a little bit back to the very beginning of this conversation where you're talking about perception, and I wanna wrap our conversation around unconscious bias. As a woman of color, I know that you have experienced unconscious bias at some point in your journey, it's just bound to happen. How does unconscious bias play a role in the selection of mentors, mentees and maybe sponsors?
Telesa: Well, I will tell you that I feel a mentor should not be decided by duplicating the race or the gender in my honest opinion. What I'm looking for in the perfect mentor: I'm looking for someone who's gonna come from the place of being genuine and really there to support your career growth. So that's my goal. However, when you're talking about unconscious bias, we know that that happens and we know that it's very, very prevalent. And the unfortunate part is that some of the strong players are not interested in mentoring because of unconscious bias. So what happens is you may lose out on the opportunity of being able to match with a mentor who is more of a perfect match because of your skill set. Because of that, this selection part of finding the right mentor, there are some companies that actually have processes where there is A plus B equals C, and you're matched with someone. And in some cases, there's an unofficial match where you're looking for a mentor that is not a part of our program, so we know that. Either of those two options, unconscious bias is definitely there, prejudice that we're not aware of, it happens outside of our control, and we know that not everyone wants to work with the next person. What I strongly suggest is that you reach out to either your co-leader of your team or your human resources person who will offer you opportunities to connect with some of the best people that have raised their hands to want to be a mentor in the workplace environment, and in a lot of cases, what happens is that people raise their hands, but there is not a formal way of communicating. If those individuals have raised their hand and they've been vetted through people and culture or human resources or your immediate boss, in some cases, that can kind of weed out some of those unconscious bias opportunities. And in some cases, it doesn't. So that's one thing that you can do, but secondly, I think what happens is, is that if you're in search for a mentor, I would say if you're talking to them, there are some key questions that you can ask that doesn't have to say, "Is there an unconscious bias that's there?" But it will give you some guides of if they're going to be able to work with you or not, so be creative.
Use resources at work. And I would also say, think about those things that are important to you, and if you're starting that relationship, you ask those core questions. I think you'll be able to understand if this person is gonna be the right match or not, but unfortunately, unconscious bias is a real thing, and it's something that we all have to work on and make sure that you've got the best person matched to be able to accomplish your goals.
Lorelei: Do you think you can pinpoint any red flags for us.
Telesa: In a mentor... Yes. I would say absolutely, yes. One of the things that I would say that is a red flag that you really wanna think about and be mindful of is... I don't know think I should say this, but I will... And what's important is that you check them out on social media and see. People tell a story on their social media, whether it's LinkedIn, or whether it is Instagram, or whether it's Facebook, if you're looking for someone, check them out while that's maybe not a red flag, but it could be a red flag when you're checking them out and the story that they're telling may not be the duplicate of your story. I will say to you that I was talking to a gentleman recently and his mentor that actually made the most impact when he first connected with him was racist, but today serves as his mentor and has made the most impact of his life. So while I say to you, let's not embrace it, let's hope that we don't have the bias. But when we do, the other opportunity that we can do is help to overcome their issues or their unconscious bias because of who you are.
Lorelei: Oh, we're facilitating change in both directions.
Telesa: Absolutely, and it's extremely important. I've seen it in so many cases. To your point, you're kind of doing two things at one time, and it's just making our world a better place, and it's helping to educate, 'cause sometimes the mentors just think one way. And it comes down to both partners learning together, and that's extremely important as well.
Lorelei: Telesa, this has been so powerful. I'm so happy I had you on for this episode on professional development and mentorship, I think you have given us some really great guidance on this. Lastly, do you have any resources to share with our audience who want to continue their professional development and mentorship journey.
Telesa: Oh, absolutely, there are a couple of things that I will say to check out. There's a book that's called "Invisible Women" by Caroline Perez. It is on my must read list. So check it out. We talked a little bit also about the I before the team, and there is a book that's called "Just Do You: Authenticity, Leadership and Your Personal Brand" by Lisa King. Not only will it take you through workbook projects to evaluate yourself, but it gives you a world of information that is extremely important. So definitely check that out as well. The final resource I will say and suggest is "In This Together: How Successful Women Support Each Other in Work and Life" by Nancy O'Reilley. It's another great book to check out. I'm hoping that you will get as much as I got out of these great resources.
Lorelei: We will be listing these resources in our show notes and we'll have links to go check them out. On the educational front, we're gonna quickly transition to our episode's femme fact for today. As many of you are likely tuned into current events, you've probably seen the stream of stories centered around Asian hate crimes occurring in many westernized regions such as the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic back in March 2020, violent attacks against Asian-Americans have increased by 150% in major US cities. There's been a 300% increase in the UK, and as high as 1900% increase in New York City. The stop-A-A-P-I hate organization, and AAPI stands for Asian-American Pacific Islander, is a non-profit which hosts the top AAPI hate Reporting Center. Last year, they received over 2800 reports of attacks against Asian-Americans in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and these are only the cases that were self-reported y'all. Many are attributing the recent rise in Asian-specific hate crimes to the racist rhetoric used by the former Trump administration, and though this certainly fans the flames of this fire, some might be surprised to find that Covid didn't start the blaze. Asian-specific racial discrimination has been a prevalent force in American history, especially faced by Asian-American women who have historically been tied to the model minority myth, which of course is based in a negative racial stereotype. For those unfamiliar with the model minority myth, it essentially perpetuates the perception that Asians and Asian women in particular are polite, quiet, law-abiding folk who are studios and achieve more success and higher wages in the general population. An additional tenant of this myth is that while Asians are thought to be high achieving and effective in their careers, they subjectively... And I'm gonna do air quotes here... Lack leadership potential. So again, air quotes, massive raised eyebrows. This is where the term bamboo ceiling came in, modeled after the glass ceiling. The bamboo ceiling describes the obstacles that Asian-American women and Asian Americans in general face and their attempts to professionally succeed despite these many challenges. We'd like to highlight a few amazing Asian-American women in history, who not only shattered ceilings, but for some, quite literally, soared to galactic kites. First, we have Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-born woman who went to Space. Born in Karnal, India in 1961. Kalpana's name translates to "idea" or "imagination." She pursued a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Punjab engineering college before moving to the United States as a naturalized citizen in the 80s. Once in the US, she obtained her Master's Degree at UT and her doctorate at the University of Colorado. Soon after Kalpana began working at NASA as a researcher, before being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1994. She completed a year of training and was offered a chance to fly a mission in 1997, making her the first Indian-born woman to reach zero gravity. Her second and final mission in 2002 was on the aircraft known as Challenger, sadly the challenger malfunction and crashed killing the six member crew, including Kalpana.
In the realm of politics, we wanna spotlight the first woman of color elected to the House of Representatives and the first Asian-American to serve in Congress. Patsy Mink was a third generation Asian-American who was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1964, representing Hawaii's second congressional district. This occurred after naysayers told her she couldn't pass the bar exam or get hired at a law firm because she was a woman and that she should instead go into childcare or something more suited to her abilities. Anyway, she joined the eight other women in Congress at the time where she was one of two primary sponsors on the bill that later became known as Title IX legislation, which was the beginning of the legal fight against gender discrimination and sexual harassment in universities. She successfully served six terms in the House before sadly and suddenly passing away after a battle with pneumonia in 2002.
Lastly, we have The Revolutionary civil rights activist, Yuri Kochiyama. Yuri was also of Japanese descent and was incarcerated at Camp Jerome in Arkansas during her childhood. Camp Jerome was one of many American internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Yuri described this experience as the beginning of her political awakening. Yuri later married and moved to Harlem where she spent time at the Harlem Freedom School, learning about black history and listening to black speakers, writers and activists. She became an activist during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and was such a presence to be reckoned with, she became friends with Malcolm X in '63. Beyond social justice, Yuri advocated for Puerto Rican independence, anti-imperialist and anti-Vietnam War initiatives, and fought against the racial profiling of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians in a post-9/11 era. She passed away in 2014.
These are just a handful of the incredible and often forgotten accomplishments of Asian-American women in history. History serves many purposes for most of which is to help us learn from past mistakes so that we do not repeat them. Let us recognize as a society what is happening to Asian-Americans today in our own communities. We can and we will do better. As such, speak out against anti-Asian sentiment when you encounter it and stand up as an individual, as a community member, and as a society for our Asian-American brothers and sisters.
Telesa, thank you for standing up and advocating in support of women's professional development. This has been so powerful and I really appreciate you being on the show. Check Telesa Via out on LinkedIn and go stay at a Kimpton hotel, y'all.
Lorelei: My name is Lorelei, and this was HERdacious. If you like our show, please subscribe, follow us on socials, we are @herdacity and you are welcome to send us an email at [email protected] And yes, that email is a mouthful. I will also link it in the show notes. Till next time, get out there and make the world a better place, be a mentor, be a sponsor, and work on your professional development. You deserve it.