Key Takeaways from the Women of Color STEM Conference

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In two seminars at last week’s Women of Color STEM Conference, Aerotek representatives shared their strategies on leadership, mentoring and teamwork.

Coaching vs. mentoring: what’s the difference?

In a seminar attended by more than 150 people on Friday, Aerotek Director of Business Development Gina Gauna was joined by Harriet-Marcia Shakir of IBM and Cheryl Jefferson of the USDA Forest Service to discuss the differences between coaches and mentors.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, coaches and mentors have separate and distinct roles, tactics and goals within an organization. In general, the role of the coach is to support you as you drive your own growth, whereas the role of the mentor is advisory, offering guidance as you make the most of your opportunities in the company.

Here is a quick definition of each role, as defined by the panel.

  • Asks open-ended questions
  • Guides you through the process of addressing your issue or goal
  • Focuses on your success
  • Spends more time listening than talking
  • Offers advice and counsel to help you succeed
  • Usually within your same industry and/or profession
  • Tends to be a problem-solver
  • Acts as an influencer

Despite the differences, the participants agreed, the objective of both roles is to help you determine who you really are instead of who you think you should be.

High-performance collaboration

In another seminar at the conference on Saturday, Aerotek Director of Business Operations Suzy Mannino was joined by Charles Montgomery of Consumers Energy, Awni Bansal of Booz Allen Hamilton and Akilah Cadet of Change Cadet to discuss the role of leadership in collaboration and teamwork.

Here is a summary of the panel’s responses to three key questions:

High-performance collaboration can be the difference between whether a team succeeds or fails, so effective leadership is a must. Here are answers to three critical questions, as answered by the panel participants:

1. Are leaders born or made? (Short answer = both.)
  • Leaders can be anyone in an organization. Even if you don’t have direct authority over others, you can demonstrate influencing behaviours.
  • Whether leaders are born or made, they need to remain life-long learners, constantly adapting to new environments. Consider the rise of global teams and telecommuting, and how they’ve created a whole new paradigm of management.
  • As Mannino notes, if you aspire to be a leader and were not born a leader—that is not your fault. However, if you do not become a leader, that is your fault.
  • The journey to becoming a leader is learning about yourself—what skill sets or attributes do you have that will help you lead? Do you have a strategy for steps you’ll take to learn leadership skills?
2. How do you succeed in an ever-changing environment? (Short answer = communicate.)
  • Communication is at the core of every business. Everyone comes to work with different experiences, competencies and expectations. Make sure you know how they all work together to create the best outcome.
  • Change is constant, so we need to make sure communication is as clear as possible. If you’re in a meeting and your co-worker responds to something you said with a raised eyebrow, follow up and ask! It could be a non-verbal cue and you’ll want to know why.
  • If you have an issue in the workplace, give yourself 24 hours and see if it’s still bothering you. If it is, address it so you can move on.
  • Find a mentor, or better yet, a group of mentors who can help guide you. 
3. How do you lead different groups to action? (Short answer = collaborate.)
  • Develop a deep understanding of the needs of the team, and think about how different groups have unique contributions… older workers, those just out of college, long-time employees vs. new hires, etc.
  • The team is always smarter than any one person, so bring out ideas from everyone.
  • Strategic collaboration is based on a set of non-negotiable core values and shared expectations; the momentum comes from teamwork, openness and creativity.

What tends to unite a staff or team, the participants noted, is passion. The desire to be open to new ideas and learn from each other all stems from a drive to have the best chance at overcoming all obstacles to create success.