Michelle O’Hara

Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer

SAIC

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

A great “Moves Mentor” plays an active role in shaping and growing the next generation of leaders. When you think of serving as a mentor as both a privilege and an opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life, it’s hard not to be inspired. Mentoring starts with empathy and genuine caring, which then helps in actively listening, asking good questions and being self-aware. The richness and authenticity of dialogue in a mentoring relationship helps a mentor to be most effective, because great mentors guide, advise and support others to be the best versions of themselves. 

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

Because mentoring is a two-way street, there is as much benefit for the mentor as there is for the mentee. Mentors can learn a tremendous amount themselves through teaching and guiding others. Mentoring builds the muscles of leadership, communication and learning agility and fulfills a sense of purpose in giving back. Hence, many “-allys” are bolstered through serving as a mentor. 

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

I believe mentoring, whether formal or informal, should be viewed as table stakes to be a leader of any kind. A leader is someone who guides and inspires others, which is the very definition of mentoring. Mentorship happens in all human interactions. A mentor can be a friend you seek advice from or a parent who helps guide their child. In a business environment, fostering a culture that advocates for mentorship making it part of your leadership development framework is critically important. That said, both a mentor and a mentee also have to be personally vested and committed to making the most of their time together.

At SAIC, I am particularly proud of our women’s leadership program called AccelerātHER Women’s Leadership Academy. This program recognizes high-potential women in our organization, pairs them with mentors from across the enterprise and provides access to unique, diverse learning and experiences. The program is eight months long and includes networking, mentorship, training, education and coaching. Upon graduation, participants are well positioned to become future SAIC leaders. It’s an investment in our future that our leadership team truly values for the benefits it delivers to individuals and our organization.  

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

I believe success is achieved through a mixture of formal and informal mentoring efforts.  Structured mentoring opportunities include rotational or stretch assignments for leadership development. This gives future leaders an opportunity to be mentored, expand their skills and broaden their business acumen. I also encourage individuals to informally reach out to others within their organization who they respect and believe they can learn from. Like any other relationship, a mentorship takes effort and positive intent to make it work, so I tend to prefer a more hands-on and intentional approach. 

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

I would tell myself to stay open to and be conscious of any and all opportunities to learn and grow, professionally and personally – to think of learning as a continuous and organic activity that presents itself every single day. Curiosity, combined with empathy, can be a powerful combination that fosters learning and great mentorship. [Michelle to give personal response] 

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. 

Absolutely, if an organization wishes to prioritize mentoring and the professional development of their employees, they must invest in their commitments. However, I’d caution against any language of absolutes – some organizations may not initially have the capital to include a detailed mentoring plan in their corporate strategy. But any organization can intentionally start with a commitment to pair individuals seeking mentors with others willing to serve as mentors. It can begin as a pilot program and following success, an organization can build a case for expansion and create the means for mentoring in a way that best aligns with the needs and culture of your organization.  

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

Never doubt your ability. Know that you are smart, capable and have the inner power to achieve great things.

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

Becoming a mother was a defining moment in my life that helped me to gain confidence that I was capable of doing extraordinary things and positively impacting the lives of others. This certainly had an effect on me at home with my family, but it also transcended into my work and inspired me to strive to do more in my career. 

How does diversity play into mentorship? 
 

The role of a mentor is to provide insight, experiences and opportunities for the person being mentored, and it’s important that the mentee experience diverse perspectives during their learning journey. For women and people of color, it’s vital that they can see themselves represented in the leadership ranks, and they see that our culture is more than words; that we represent what we say. Mentors must take action and lead by example.  If you are an organizational leader, this means holding your people managers accountable to foster a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at the team level. If you balance accountability with corporate investment in training, mentoring programs for high-potential diverse talent, and peer-to-peer ally ship and alliance opportunities, you will foster and achieve a people-centric culture across the enterprise.  

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?) 
 

Stay intentional, stay focused, and stay committed to advancing women in the workplace. While we have made incremental progress, we must continue to do more for women’s power and equality. This isn’t going to be solved overnight and there is no silver bullet solution. But with each success − whether that is pay equity, women in increasing roles of leadership, more women serving on corporate boards – there needs to be sustained commitment to further progress. There are volumes of data that confirm that women have many strengths including a collaborative leadership style; an affinity for listening, social support and win-win problem-solving. So, from a talent perspective, women continue to be a driving force for the future.    

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

Be willing to get out of your comfort zone. No great achievement comes without some amount of risk taking, and experiencing both success and failure is a valuable way to grow as a person and a leader. If you make a mistake, know that it’s part of what makes you human, and learn from it.  

Who do you most admire? Why?

There are so many people I admire in this world, but my anchor is always back to my family. Nothing that I can accomplish at work or at home is possible without the support of my husband and children. They make sacrifices at times to support my career, they keep me grounded, and they are my biggest cheerleaders. For that, they have my deepest admiration. 

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