Tomya Watt

Vice President, Talent Acquisition & Mobility, Chief Diversity Officer

Memorial Sloan Kettering CC

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

I think empathy, honesty, vulnerability, and a clear memory of one’s path to where we are in our own career so that we are able to bring an authentic voice to the conversation with anyone that we are helping guide their careers.

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

A couple of ways. I think it serves as a mirror for our own blind spots; it helps us understand different experiences and really makes us better allies, and allows us to learn. 

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

I think it should not be a requirement because so much of it is built on trust, and if it is a requirement that doesn’t exist or if there isn’t alignment, you’ll pick people, but people don’t always bring their full selves to work. So as an example, you could have someone who is out in their sexual orientation in their private life but doesn’t bring that forward at work. And the person with whom you could match them may have a conflict in acceptance, and as a result, it will feel performative, or it could feel disenfranchising, so I think it is a very different thing to make a requirement. 

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

I have experienced it where a former employer where a group of a certain level of a certain cohort was designed, and we were all assigned a mentor, and most of those relationships didn’t work. Mine worked because I had an established relationship before with the person who became my mentor, who was extremely senior in the organization. 

It was much more of me reaching out to him when things were going on, in order for him to feel like he could, you know, as old people from the south would tell me my ‘slip is hanging,’ we got into a rhythm where we had a standing meeting so that he didn’t feel like he had to call me when he felt like there was something he needed to give me my way with feedback. So, I think what I learned from that is that you need a combination. 

I think the folks who are being mentored need to reach out because, at a certain level, we are not involved in their day-to-day. We have no idea what’s going on unless someone either provides feedback, you see something, or something triggers something to communicate to them, and in that regard, I think it’s proactive from the mentor to the mentee. But I would say 95% of it is the mentee approaching the person they are getting advice or guidance from. 

Do you feel that sometimes it’s hard for mentees to approach mentors because a lot of mentors don’t have time? 

I do think that there’s a point at which people would say, ‘I would love for you to mentor me,’ and I would say, ‘Like, okay, for what? What do you want to gain from this?’ Right, is it just access to me? So, that you can call me when you want to? Because if I’m invested, I’m going to tell you things you might not want to hear sometimes, and so people have to be prepared for it, 

If you’re asking for my time, you have to be invested, and if I’m going to be invested in you, we need to have an open dialogue; otherwise, I am just doing some performative mentoring, and I don’t have time for that. You can get that from anybody you know. That’s why you have a family. Those are the people that love you. I think that the piece that people have to understand is that this is work. We pay you to do a job, you get paid to do a job, and you are here to contribute, and this isn’t about making your ego feel great, making you feel wonderful, telling you; you did a good job, and giving you a gold star, sometimes it’s a reflective moment where you need someone who’s going to tell you, you need to develop this muscle in a different way. And so, I can see both sides of it.

I had the fortune of having a senior person at a prior organization as a mentor, and that conversation was like; what do you want from me, and I was clear on what I wanted. I wanted exposure at a strategic level to how decisions were being made that shaped the company in a way that would help develop me. 

it was a very open conversation, so when we sat down, it was, ‘tell me how you made this decision. ‘If I have this decision to make, how does this help the company, and ‘how do I make sure that what I’m working on is aligned if that alignment isn’t always clear. That’s what I wanted to know; that’s what I asked for. 

Should any responsible 5-year corporate’s strategy include detailed planning of budgets for mentoring and official positions for mentoring directors?

I think it depends on the maturity of the organization, the maturity of their- Let’s call it ‘development curriculum’ it has to be an add-in, it can’t be a later on and so if an organization were to create such a thing, it would need to be one that has a very robust and mature organizational development muscle. 

I think many places try to add mentoring to fix what they call a diversity problem, and that doesn’t address it because it doesn’t create inclusion or belonging; what it does is it creates sort of what I like to call the “favorite child syndrome,” and that doesn’t help undo biases, what it does is further separate folks in terms of making people who aren’t selected feel lesser than, and so I think it has to be done delicately. 

“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?

 I’ll pose a question back to you. So, how many female CEOs are there for Fortune 500 companies? I think catalysts reported in February that there were 31. Right, so of them, how many black women or men or Hispanic men or women? Until we can stop looking at a list and quickly identify and count whoever they are, we need to continue to put this at the forefront. I think part of the reason it’s a challenge is just based on the inherent bias. So, if we start at the 19th century as it relates to slavery, there is built-in our entire system systemic racism that prohibits folks from being able to be as successful based on education and access to healthcare in neighborhoods. This could be a whole other article, so I would just say that it is a continued challenge based on systemic boundaries in place as it relates to access to opportunity and education. 

Since education is the key. Do you think if more people were educated they would be less threatened and intimidated?

Yeah, but that’s assuming that people agree. So that premise is that if you’re educated and that you spend time with – I don’t know- More women, and you see that women are “capable”, then you will shift your thinking if you previously thought of them as being incapable. But that’s assuming that you agree with that premise. 

So, if you just look at the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that was passed in Florida, it was going to assume that if you exposed people in the Florida legislature to Trans people, they would become enlightened, not if, at their core, they reject that premise as it relates to people being trans and being “equal” to them or others. 

Education doesn’t change that necessarily; if your fundamental principles don’t align, that means you are just continuing to talk to a brick wall. So again, I think we have to dismantle where it starts and not try to attack it at a point saying that people will understand.

Simone de Beuvoir the major stumbling block in the 21st century, road to equality do you think that the discrimination of women comes from the bottom up or top down?

There are gender-driven biases, and this question, I think, really hits at the heart of that. It is largely built because we start day one with a binary gender norming that happens. You know boys should wear blue, girls should wear pink, boys should get trucks, and girls should have dolls. So, the way to attack whether there’s true discrimination about it is also how we do gender norming and if you do it from a binary and nonbinary standpoint. 

Let’s say we just do it from a binary standpoint; if it is binary and if we start from even before a child takes their first outside breath, we can’t expect the bottom up or top down to shift because we continue to perpetuate some of these norms that cause the discrimination to continue. So, you start with; there’s a lot of research done for young girls where they’re often told their pretty, it’s like ‘Oh, she’s so pretty, she’s so pretty, she’s beautiful, she’s lovely’ where boys are ‘He’s smart, he’s tough’ – The language we even use to describe children before 5 starts to shape how they interact, which is why many girls opt-out of math and sciences by the time they’re in the third grade. That’s why I said it’s top and bottom and the sides. 

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

I think there are a couple of things; from a personal journey standpoint, my family has been engaged in the conversation of equality for generations; doing work to dismantle where there’s injustice and inequality, and it is just woven into the fabric of who I am, so that’s a part of it. 

I think the other piece is really probably shaped by my mother reminding me that I come from a really solid woman and my father instilling in me that there were no gender boundaries for me. So as a couple, their messaging really shaped me that I could try things, take risks, learn from them, build resilience, and keep going. So, I would say that those two experiences shaped me into who I am today. 

what do you think is the number one action as a society we can take for women’s power and equality?

Not overturning Roe V Wade.

Women need to be able to make choices that allow them to be able to advance their lives and their careers and take care of the children they choose to have or not have. Not everyone can say it’s a family burden, but most child-rearing activities fall to the person who is the mother or raising the child as the mother, which can limit access to opportunity and equality. 

So, that, to me, is key; access to preventative care, and access to health equity, would be key, as well as not overturning Roe V Wade and not defunding planned parenthood because that organization provides more than just what is perceived. It provides access in low-income neighborhoods for healthcare for women, largely women of color, so we are having a real conversation about power and equality; we have access to fair and equal healthcare, and Roe V Wade is not overturned. 

What’s the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?

The one piece of advice, and I say this often, especially to young mentees, that a former mentor of mine told me once that it’s important when things happen to you to use a lens that says did it happen to me because I’m young? I was young at the time, but not now clearly. Did it happen to me because I’m a woman? Do I think it happen to me because I’m black? Did it happen because I was wrong? or was the person just a jerk? And when you have that kind of lens, when you’re being honest with yourself, it helps you really compartmentalize how things happen and how you then can respond. 

And I use that, and I tell people because often you want to respond in a very personal way, and sometimes it’s not personal, sometimes the person is having a bad day, you got them at the wrong time, and you just move on. So, that piece of advice is one I think, especially for folks, earlier in their career, is most helpful. 

Who do you most admire? Why?

My twenty year old daughter.

And the why is because I’ve watched her stand in her truth even as a young girl. And find her voice. And be able to use it, to advocate for herself, and charge her own path even if it wasn’t a conventional path, or it wasn’t a popular path or one where, as her mother, wanting to protect her, I worried about her- being hurt, not physically of course, but you know an injury to heart mind and soul along some of the choices she was making, and she has made them. And I just look at her as a young woman and can’t wait to see what she does. 

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