Perika Sampson

Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity
Gilead Sciences
Foster City, California

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

Commitment, accessibility, compassion, strong EQ, as well as the ability to be an active listener and to give timely advice.

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

Being a mentor fuels several areas for me. It allows me to be of service to others, it also allows me the opportunity to connect with early talent and emerging professionals. It is personally rewarding, possibly in the same way a coach feels when a walk-on with natural talent is willing to accept guidance. Watching a mentee navigate situations, progress in their careers and excel in their profession is personally rewarding.

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

Mentorship is important to developing employees and creating a sense of belonging in organizations. It’s important that mentoring programs are hosted by companies but I am not a fan of making it a requirement for mentors or mentees. The engagements that work do so because there is a commitment to meeting the expectations for both mentors and mentees, there is also a connection between both parties, and the objectives are established as is accountability. 

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

I prefer that there be intentionality for both parties. I am willing to mentor individuals who are serious about their desire to be successful in their endeavors. I expect the mentor to take responsibility for scheduling meetings and following up on agreed upon actions. I offer guidance and specific direction based on the situations presented by the mentee.

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

Leverage your network and identify a trusted advisor to provide input and/or guidance. I never sought out a mentor. There were people in my life who recognized that I had natural leadership skills and they recognized my potential. Unfortunately, early on no one spoke to me about mentors nor did I have the insight to recognize that their guidance would’ve been invaluable. The other advice would be to not be afraid to state your goals. In her book, Unapologetically Ambitious, Shelley Archambeau, states that she shares her goals with a number of people. I wish I had that advice when I started my career. It reminds me of the adage, a close mouth won’t be fed. 

Given the evidence that successful mentoring increases the my 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 believe in the importance of mentoring especially for early career professionals. The mentor/mentee relationship can be the defining factor between a 2-year stint at a company and a 20-year career at a company. Companies would benefit from programs focused on high potential professionals that include career pathing, exposure, stretch assignments, etc. Some of those initiatives require dedicated funding and the commitment of talent development/management professionals.

“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?

In my opinion the challenge of gender equality in the “enlightened” western world hinges on a number of factors including a lack of commitment to equality, an unwillingness to remove structural barriers that prevent equity and a reluctance of the privileged to relinquish power.

“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? 

Discrimination of any kind is generally borne in structures and systems built by those in power. In our society much of our flawed system was based on man’s interpretation of religion to justify their desires. It’s also based on too many “isms” to mention, as well as a desire to keep people who look like this country’s “founding fathers” in power.

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

I want the next generation to know that there will be many opportunities to demonstrate their brilliance. They deserve a seat at any table and in any profession that they’re prepared to pursue. There is extraordinary power in their knowledge and experiences. I hope that they don’t limit how and when they contribute to efforts in their schools, communities, governments, or in corporations.

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

When I embarked on my career, I thought I knew what I wanted to do professionally. I was denied the opportunity to pursue that career because I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t aware that women and people of color were few and far between in the industry. Despite the denial I was not deterred. I persevered and ultimately entered the industry. I leveraged a relationship with a hiring manager who didn’t hire me, to secure a coveted letter of recommendation. That letter, a strong series of interviews and persistence got me in the door. Resilience and meeting challenges head on allowed me to have a career that’s exceeded my expectations in many ways. I have worked with esteemed leaders and in roles I wouldn’t have been able to define when I entered the workforce. All those experiences led me to where I am today and placed me in a position that allows me to serve others as they embark upon their professional journeys.

How does diversity play into mentorship?

Diversity can play a few roles in mentorship. First, the opportunity for diverse individuals to benefit from mentorship is high, as the opportunity to engage with senior leaders has typically not been afforded them. Second, mentors and mentees benefit when diversity is at play, as it often helps them to view challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives. Diversity helps to heighten cultural awareness and leads to greater cultural fluency for both mentors and mentees. I often encourage professionals early in their career to look for opportunities to provide reverse mentoring to their mentors. Mentors tend to become advocates for diversity and its related initiatives. Many also become champions for and sponsors of diverse talent. 

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?)

First, call out structural barriers to equality. Second, hold leaders accountable for eradicating those barriers and committing to representation goals that include women and other underrepresented groups. Third, enlist allies and vocal advocates.

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

Not to shrink to accommodate those who are challenged by the unique gifts and/or skills and experiences that I have been afforded. The second, if you want it, go for it!

If it is true that whenever women are involved in any one aspect of life – domestic, business, recreation –  the empirical evidence shows that activity is enhanced in a real and tangible way, why is there such fierce resistance to this female influence?

There have been several studies that prove that women tend to thrive in ways that ultimately impact communities. Be it entrepreneurs who reinvest in their families and circles or those who are successful and philanthropic in ways that benefit their communities in ways great and small. I am not sure that I agree that there is fierce resistance. I do, however, think that there isn’t enough investment in women here in the U.S. or around the globe. This last decade we have heard much discussion about issues that impact women with many leading efforts to diminish women’s right to make decisions for themselves. If paternalism could take a backseat to investing in education, entrepreneurial endeavors and the careers of women just think of the impact we would have on the world. 

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

I might go back a few more years than that. I would say to think about where you really want to be in 20 years and to move with great intention in your efforts to achieve that goal. Achieving goals is as much about knowing what you want, investing in yourself, pursuing that goal with intention, and a smidge of luck.

Who do you most admire? Why?

There are many great people, women and men, whom I admire. Those in the arts, education, politics, and beyond who built the rich culture that contributes to my worldview. However, I think about my ancestors who overcame so many obstacles to ensure that their heirs could thrive. They weren’t highly educated but they were resourceful and they strategized to build legacies that our family benefits from today. Their sacrifices should never be forgotten. 

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