Celeste Warren

Vice President, Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence, Merck

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Moves Mentor”?  

In order to be an effective Moves Mentor, I feel that one needs to demonstrate servant leadership.   They need to go into the work that they with an unselfish mindset.   They have to remember that the relationship is about the needs of those persons with whom are mentoring.   They have to establish an environment of trust around them so that the relationship can cultivate and grow and most importantly, so the mentee/protégé can grow.  

How does mentoring benefit the mentor? Career-wise? Intellectually? Spiritually? Socially? Any other “-allys”? 

The mentor relationship benefits not only the mentee/protégé, but also the mentor.   It builds on their leadership capabilities which will help from a career perspective for those mentors who aspire to be strong leaders.   Intellectually, if the mentor is approaching the relationship correctly, they will learn from their mentee/protégé.   I participated in a reverse mentoring program recently with someone from the Y Generation and I learned so much from the individual.  I got to see the world through their eyes and learn different perspectives.   I grew up in a time where the corporate world was very traditional.  It is very different now and learning from those who identify differently from me is one way to grow as a leader and person in general.   

Should mentorship be a company requirement or a personal give-back?

I believe that mentorship is something that should be strongly encouraged by leaders and managers in their respective areas. The reason why I hesitate to say it should be a company-wide program and requirement is because I feel the relationship should happen naturally with two individuals (or group mentoring) who have developed a level of trust that can enable a strong mentorship relationship. I don’t subscribe to the notion of throwing two people together based on a set of pre-conceived facts from a form they fill out. I have had experience with company-wide mentoring programs early in my career and in any of those cases, it was not a good experience for me. The best mentoring experiences I had were of those that I cultivated and nurtured with my mentor. We developed an environment of psychological safety and trust where I felt comfortable talking with them about my successes as well as my challenges and concerns.  

What is your mentorship method? Do you prefer a more hands-on or laidback approach?

I don’t know if I have a method, but I approach each relationship in a way that meets the individual where they are.   I believe each relationship is different, based on the needs of the mentee/protégé.  I want to help them with whatever they want to achieve out of the relationship.   As I said earlier, it’s about them, not me or my method.   If they want to meet to talk about their concerns in their career, then I approach it in a different way, then someone who wants to seek help in balancing work and life.   

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time 15 years?

“What God has for you, it is for you.” Don’t base the success or failure in your career on what you see happening with someone else.   Set your own goals, pray about it and if it is for you, then it will be there for you.

Given the evidence that successful mentoring increases the bottom line, should any responsible five year corporate strategy include a detailed plan and budget for mentoring complete with an official position for a mentoring director and regular progress reports to the board?

I think given the evidence, that organizations should provide the framework and resources (whether they be financial or otherwise) to ensure the mentorship relationships can thrive.   It should be a part of the talent management strategy as a developmental tool for employees.   It should be included as part of the performance objectives and included as a part of that progress so mentors can be evaluated on the relationship and mentees/proteges can leverage it as part of their developmental plan.   I think there are many ways to evaluate if a program is successful and contributing to the bottom line of an organization, but again, we need to make sure that it is not just a “check the box” exercise and that the program is contributing to the successful environment of the organization in the eyes of the employees.  

“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism… in the 21st is century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for fairness and gender equality around the world.” *  Why is gender equality even a challenge, especially in the ‘enlightened’ western world?

That question is as old as time I would imagine and entrenched in several archaic beliefs which still prevail today.   It is entrenched in our fundamental biological beliefs, how we have been socialized, how we have been educated, how we are portrayed, and in so many other institutionalized factors.   These archaic beliefs have to be peeled back at the core and “reprogrammed” so we get after all the systemic issues of sexism.   It has to be approached through multi-dimensional interventions throughout the ecosystem.   I wish there was a simpler solution, but I truly believe that this has to be attacked thoroughly to truly impact sustaining change.   

“Legislators, priests, philosophers, writers, and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of woman is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth.”  Simone de Beauvoir. Is this still a major stumbling block on the 21st century road to equality? Do you think discrimination against women comes from the bottom or the top? 

I think discrimination against women comes at us from 360 degrees.  It’s not just a top or bottom situation, it’s coming at us from all over. Yes, there has to be a change in the power structure because it is still mostly men, and there needs to be a growth of enlightened men within the ranks who think differently about conventional, archaic viewpoints about women.  There also needs to be the partnership with peers as well who want to lock arms with women to attack the problems throughout the ecosystem.  

What do you want the next generation of power women to know?

I want them to know that they can do ANYTHING they aspire to do. I want them to know that they should not settle for anything.  They should not accept any secondary excuses, efforts, platitudes or pretexts that make allowances for continuing to perpetuate the inequities that exist today.   

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

I wouldn’t say there was one defining moment. I learned about the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion as a young child growing up in a small steel mill town in western, PA. My father was the first black teacher and principal in the region and I saw how he approached the challenges and barriers that stood in his way throughout his career. It taught me discipline, resilience and courage to fight the battles not just on behalf of myself, but on behalf of all those who don’t feel the strength to fight on their own.      

How does diversity play into mentorship?

One of the dimensions of the mentor-mentee relationship that isn’t readily explored is the nuance of mentoring someone who is different from you in how they identify themselves. In times such as these, this is an important aspect of mentoring that sometimes is ignored in traditional mentoring programs.

In this day and age, mentoring relationships can become strained. For example, in the #MeToo era, men have voiced concerns over mentoring women for fear of false accusations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.  Business leaders might be hesitant to mentor employees from other countries for concerns of cultural and language challenges.  White leaders may have concerns of mentoring those of different ethnic backgrounds for concerns of offending or being insensitive to concerns they face in their respective communities. Baby Boomers sometimes shy away from mentoring those from different generations.  On the surface, these concerns may seem extreme, but nonetheless, they are valid to those experiencing them.  

Address them head on, through courageous conversation and inclusive dialogue.  The mentoring relationship is too important as a component of a company’s inclusion strategy to be eroded.  The mentor is a critical source of support and a valuable tool to helping to grow our future leaders. We must do whatever we can to preserve this aspect of our employee development practices.  

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take for women’s power and equality? (e.g. affirmative action?)

I think I would like to go back to my answer from an earlier question. I don’t think we can relegate solving this issue in society with one action.

“That question is as old as time I would imagine and entrenched in several archaic beliefs which still prevail today. It is entrenched in our fundamental biological beliefs, how we have been socialized, how we have been educated, how we are portrayed, and in so many other institutionalized factors.   These archaic beliefs have to be peeled back at the core and “reprogrammed” so we get after all the systemic issues of sexism.   It has to be approached through multi-dimensional interventions throughout the ecosystem.   I wish there was a simpler solution, but I truly believe that this has to be attacked thoroughly to truly impact sustaining change”.   

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice I have ever received came from my Mother and Father as I was going off to college.   They told me to “never forget my upbringing and to act accordingly”.   I think I am a legacy of my parents and grandparents and my ancestors.   What I do is a reflection on them.  I want to do what I can to continue their legacy and continue to pave the way for those who are coming after me.      

Who do you most admire?    

I most admire my mother and my father.  

My father was one of the first African American teachers and principals in western Pennsylvania during the late 1950s and 1960s, when civil rights was still in its infancy. It was a time that was characterized by major campaigns of civil resistance, acts of nonviolent protest, and civil disobedience, producing crisis situations and dialogues between activists and government authorities.  

His passion for diversity, equity and inclusion was channeled through a fierce discipline and strong work ethic. He didn’t allow himself to be distracted and moved forward with his goals to strive for equal rights for himself, but also for his students and those teachers and administrators of color who were to come after him.   

As the CEO of our family, he fought for the rights of his “employees” to make sure that the world we went out into was one where we were prepared to fight and endure any aspect of disparity that we encountered. Because his children went to a neighboring school district and not his own, he initiated meetings with our teachers, coaches, and any other administrators who he felt were not approaching their responsibility as leaders in an equitable fashion. I never once saw my father raise his voice in any of these discussions, but he was very direct and clear in his expectations as it pertains to his children.  

He demonstrated some of the strongest traits of leadership:  Inner strength and patience, self-confidence, a strong desire to drive change.

My mother was not a corporate executive. She did not start her own company. But she was one of the most formidable forces I have ever known. She was the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Chief HR Officer of one of the toughest organizations across many decades, our family household.   

During those hard days when my father would come home and be tired from the continuous battle against inequities throughout the day, she would comfort him, she would also provide counsel to him and tell him that it was going to be alright. She would energize him because she knew that when he left the house the next day, he needed to be armed and ready to fight yet again.

As the CFO, she made sure that the organization had sufficient funds to operate. My Father came home and gave the check to my Mother. She made sure it was spread out so she could pay the bills, put food on the table and close on our backs. As the CHRO, she made sure that all employees were working together well. She conducted ongoing performance reviews of her 5 children on a daily basis, providing creative and effective “feedback” to ensure optimal performance.  

My Mother led with skills of empathy, results orientation, efficiency while creating an environment of psychological safety for all of us.   

So you can see, I may have come from a small town, but I was surrounded by leaders who were role models for the type of person I aspired to be.  

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