Mentoring and sponsorship is a crucial component of empowering diverse talent. According to a recent study by the Center for Talent Innovation, Latinxs with sponsors are 42 percent more likely to be satisfied with their career progression than Latinxs without. However, only five percent of Latinx professionals in large companies have a sponsor in their corner.
Managing Director Isabel Kunsman and Vice President Jose Velasco, who are both members of our firm’s “Hispanics or Latinxs at AlixPartners” (HOLA) employee resource group, spoke with Megan Broker, our Organizational Development Program Manager who leads our Coaching and Mentoring Center of Excellence, about the role mentors have played through their careers, what makes a good mentor, and the importance of mentors to help manage disruption.
Megan: Isabel, let's start with you. You joined AlixPartners as a Managing Director. I'd love to know a little bit about the role mentoring played on your experience transitioning to a new role and a new firm.
Isabel: I joined AlixPartners about two years ago, and overall the transition was very smooth. I had two mentors upon joining. One was a formal mentor, Jay Marshall (AlixPartners’ Chief Learning Officer), who I would meet with regularly to talk through any issues I was having. Jay does so much at the firm, but he is so committed to mentoring new MDs and is great at it.
The second relationship was with another MD that joined around the same time as me. It’s been a helpful relationship because we can be very open with each other on how our previous firms differed from AlixPartners and how we were acclimating.
Megan: Jose, you also joined the firm recently and were dealing with an additional transition, as AlixPartners is your first experience working in the US, right?
Jose: That’s correct, Megan. I worked for four years in Mexico, and while I had worked for American companies, living the culture and speaking the language 24/7 has been an adjustment.
I joined the firm right after my MBA, so I had already been in the US for two years, which helped the transition. But mentors were so important as I adjusted to a new role and geography.
My career coach is Dan Kelsall, who is a Director in the same practice as me. I had the opportunity to work with him on a project right after I joined, and we got to know each other personally. He’s my first point of contact whenever I have a question about my skill set, career progression, or the firm culture.
My colleague Isabel Arana joined the firm a couple of years before I did. She also started her career in Mexico and came to the US for business school, so she’s on a similar path as me just two years farther along and really understands what I am going through. Her guidance has been crucial.
Megan: What about your mentoring experiences at previous organizations?
Isabel: Mentoring relationships fell into a sort of middle space. Our teams were siloed and so it was challenging to develop relationships organically across the firm. And while we had a mentoring program, mentors did not receive training on how to be effective and often did not have the time to develop the relationship with their mentee. It was more like the company was checking a box just to say they had a mentoring program.
Jose: The companies I worked for in Mexico had training programs for skills and functionalities, but there was not a focus on relationship development, where you would have regularly scheduled touchpoints with someone focused more on your career path.
"I've only been in the US for four years now, and so speaking with other internationals that have succeeded here for longer periods of time reconfirms for me that our firm values diverse backgrounds like mine."
-Jose Velasco, Vice President, Turnaround and Restructuring Services
Isabel: I think what Jose is describing is related to a transition I’ve noticed in my career. There’s now more acceptance on the importance of soft skills, and mentors are crucial for developing those types of skills.
Megan: It seems like you both have had success with informal and formal mentors, but that middle area can be kind of a black hole.
Isabel: That’s been my experience, yes. What can you do to avoid that?
Megan: It’s a good question. At AlixPartners, when someone requests a mentor, we go through a process to match them with someone who fits their personality and objectives. And then we give some options and have exploratory conversations to see if there’s a fit and really let the pair decide.
There has to be a connection and trust. You can’t just take two people and say “go and impart knowledge on each other and be receptive to that.”
Isabel: I’ll add that there are some unique things about AlixPartners that I think help develop trust from the moment you join. First is the thorough recruiting process and all the testing we go through. I knew from my first day here that everyone I was working with went through the same vetting process that I did, and that means a lot.
The second thing that stuck out to me is that all the former CEOs of AlixPartners are still involved in one way or another. There are very few firms like that, which shows that something special is happening here.
Megan: Isabel, I want to go back to your comment about the transition you’ve noticed. Can you elaborate on that a little?
Isabel: When I started my career, there were challenges and changes, but they didn't occur that often, and they were not that big. So, it was expected that someone senior to you would know the ropes and could guide you and your team through those changes.
"Now, there's so much disruption that it’s not guaranteed that when something comes up in your career that someone senior to you is going to know what to do about it. You often need to look to someone more junior, or at your same level, so these relationships are more two-way."
-Isabel Kunsman, Managing Director, Investigations, Disputes & Risk
Now, there's so much disruption that it’s not guaranteed that when something comes up in your career that someone senior to you is going to know what to do about it.
You often need to look to someone more junior to you, or at your same level, so these relationships are more two-way. Also, you can end up with mentors that specialize in different topics. It’s almost like a buffet.
Megan: Jose, have you experienced this as well?
Jose: Yes, absolutely. And I agree with Isabel that reverse mentoring is very important to people at my level, and I think the pandemic and our shift to remote working has only reinforced this trend.
Megan: Isabel, you have a bit of a smile on your face.
Isabel: I was laughing because I experienced this exact thing at the beginning of the pandemic. I was checking in on a member of my team just to make sure she was doing OK. After talking with her, I just thought I’m so glad I had this conversation because I feel so much better, because she had it more under control than I did. So, there’s definitely areas where the reverse mentoring is great.
Megan: I think that’s a shift we’ve seen across society, where someone says I want to be mentored and then finds a person that has that specific knowledge, without necessarily considering seniority.
Another area where I think there has been a shift is in recognizing the importance of mentoring in achieving a more diverse workplace. Jose, what are your thoughts on that?
Jose: I've only been in the US for four years now, and so speaking with other internationals that have succeeded here for longer periods of time reconfirms for me that our firm values diverse backgrounds like mine.
And when I have the opportunity to talk with prospective candidates or people starting out at the firm, I try to communicate that same message, and so it becomes a cycle.
Megan: And what about HOLA? What role has it played in supporting mentoring at the firm and what would you like to see as our ERGs continue to evolve?
Jose: HOLA has a lot of social events, which has been very helpful for me to expand my network and develop these informal peer relationships we talked about earlier. But I think it would be helpful for members to take a more active role in the formal mentoring process, particularly on issues that Hispanics and Latinxs routinely face.
Megan: I agree with that. One thing we are moving away from as a firm is a focus on the traditional line manager approach to mentoring as part of the performance management design. This allows us to have conversations that are more inclusive about the role of mentors and the different types of mentoring we can offer including internal and external coaching, sponsorship, and group peer mentoring. As part of these efforts, we are working with our Diversity & Inclusion team to provide more formal mentoring opportunities through our ERGs.
That brings me to my final question. What’s the best piece of knowledge that a mentor imparted on you?
Jose: Focus on who you surround yourself with. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people that I looked up or people that I think enhance my potential both personally and professionally.
Isabel: The best piece of advice I got was, “Don’t worry. It will come. I trust you. Be patient. You have what it takes.”