The Need for Sponsors to Help Us Advance

I grew up in a mixed heritage household-- my mother is Korean and my father is white. While we were a family living in the US, many of the cultural norms that were instilled in me and my younger brother were dominated by Korean norms:

  • Education and degrees are very, very important
  • Don’t do anything to shame the family
  • Family harmony is more important than individual happiness
  • Don’t speak up – your work should speak for itself
  • Meritocracy is the way to advance.

Growing up and as a female, I always knew that being loud and drawing too much attention to myself was undesirable. I would tell myself, “don’t be too boastful” or “don’t show off.” But as I started on my career journey, I started to notice a pattern. Why were the loudest folks in the room getting the most attention? Why were my peers who didn’t have the pedigree or technical skills getting the better projects or promotions? Why was I being overlooked?

I’d ask myself, was it because I was a woman? Was it because I was Asian? Why did people only see my half-Asian features? Do I really need to be that loud to be recognized?

The Difference Between a Mentor and a Sponsor

As the diligent worker, I was raised to become, I was fortunate to come across some professional mentors in the workplace. These senior mentors shared their own career experiences and journeys with me. They reveled in the highlights and warned of the pitfalls and stumbles. I collected these stories like a squirrel collects acorns, preparing for winter. I was convinced that these stories would help me advance.

But later, I had my “A-ha!” moment. I overheard some of my friends talk about an organizational calibration meeting they had just left. I was admittedly naïve to fully understand what these meetings were and how they worked, and more importantly, who was in the room. Every company and team has talent review meetings. Some of them are shrouded in secrecy and others are more transparent. As my friends mentioned stories of colleagues who got their promotions approved or denied, I picked up that the key differentiator for those who advanced were those who had sponsors – people who were outside of their direct reporting structure who made and endorsed the case on their behalf. These sponsors were the folks who were talking when said person wasn’t in the room.

How to Advance Yourself and Diversity in the Workplace Through Sponsorship

After understanding the difference between mentors and sponsors, I came up with a different game plan about how to approach managers and senior leaders to develop my squad of personal sponsors. With my cultural identity, it was easier for me to enlist the help of others to be more boastful and promotional than I personally felt comfortable doing. I changed my personal game plan for advancement to not just do the work – but also to seek out those who could make networking connections and would be more personally vested in the success of what I was working on.

As the Executive Sponsor of the Asian and Pacific Islanders ERG (APIs at Extreme), it’s my turn to pay it forward and be the loud and boastful one on behalf of my API peers. I’m now looking for ways to make connections and continue the conversations when the others aren’t in the room. I’m excited to help advance the diversity and inclusion discussions and career opportunities here at Extreme. My goal is that my peers and allies can feel comfortable in owning the space in the workplace and their personal lives for their authentic selves to thrive.

If you’re interested in joining Extreme Networks, I encourage you to visit our careers page and learn more about our diversity and inclusion initiatives at Extreme Networks.

About the Author
Extreme Networks
Extreme Marketing Team

Our global marketing team is made up of knowledgeable, passionate, and creative individuals. They promote the advances – and the momentum – of the world’s most exciting networking company through best-in-class events and communications.

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