Equity by Design: Mentorship Re-defined

I met my sponsor through the Architecture + Education Program in Buffalo, NY - The founder of the program, Kelly Hayes McAlonie, saw me speak and asked me to interview for a job within her group.  Kelly and I both have a passion for public outreach, especially with children. I got the job and Kelly continued to be a mentor, and eventually a sponsorto me. Kelly has
encouraged me to take on larger projects or awards, she has multiple times advocated on my behalf for work and non-work related items. She is the true definition of a sponsor - she is someone who goes the extra mile to make sure that I am succeeding in my career.



I recently participated as a thought leader at the Equity by Design Symposium, Metrics, Meaning, & Matrices.  Along with Prairna Gupta Garg, AIAPatricia Romallo, AIA, and Mia Scharpie, we lead a session entitled:  Hackathon - Mentorship Re-designed.  

Mentoring is important for professional growth at any career stage, from learning the ropes to navigating choices later on. Unfortunately, mentorship can reinforce inequity as mentors and mentees are often drawn to people of similar ethnicity, race, and gender. Mentorship can also be too limited in scope, restricted to advice when the mentor can be most powerful as champion or sponsor, advocating for the mentee when promotion or hiring decisions are made. In this session we will ‘redesign mentorship’ through hands-on exercises and small group discussions. Together we will create a tool to provide effective professional development for everyone.

We started the session with discuss what doesn’t work in mentoring?

  • Forcing or chasing a relationship
  • Forced Pairings
  • Passive Approach
  • What's in it for me mentality
  • Being so busy that mentorship takes a back seat
  • Assuming that your manager is your mentor
  • Programs that are overly structured

Define Mentors vs. Sponsors
Mentor:  Offers advice, shares wisdom, often a passive role
Sponsor:  Advocates on behalf of the sponsoree, takes an active role


The first part of the session was based on identifying the qualities needed for individuals, the relationship and the experience.

What are the qualities in good Mentees/Mentors/Sponsors?

  • Listening
  • Asking questions
  • Enthusiasm
  • Understanding the mentees personal/professional goals

What qualities have you noticed in a successful mentorship relationship?

  • Setting up regular check-ins
  • Asking for constructive feedback
  • Sharing your life goals early on; etc.

How do you create the experience and/or guide people to give them a realistic sense of mentorship and sponsorship?

  • Mentor is not just one person - Build a Network of Sponsors, Mentors and Strategic Alliances.
  • You can't build a network when you need it-do this early and often. Set out your goals and prepare to have conversations.
  • Be prepared when you come into a mentor relationship. It's not that people don't want to help you, but they need to know what you need.


The second half of the session was based on re-designing how mentorship works.  

What beyond traditional mentorship programs should we be thinking about?

  • Meeting with peer groups, safe space for feedback
  • Using social media to connect
  • Join mentoring programs outside of architecture
  • Passions = Networking = Mentorship

What are the ways to establish equitable mentoring in your firm?

  • A published study reported that 64% of men at the level of VP or higher are hesitant to have a one on one meeting with a more junior woman.
  • “If women try to cultivate a close relationship with a male sponsor, they risk being the target of workplace gossip. If women tr to get to the top without a sponsor’s help, their careers will often stall.”
  • Breakfast or Lunch only policy - to create a more equitable workplace

How do you build your very own mentorship network ?

  • Reach out, show interest in another person, offer help.
  • Take advantage of tools like LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Take inventory of your network today: people you currently work with and you’ve worked with in the last two years. People you know in different organizations, industries, roles, social groups, and even family. Consider how these type of relationships can influence your future “destination”.

Important Resources for Mentoring:

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

  • Women are told that they need a mentor to climb the corporate ladder, and research shows that those with a mentor are more likely to
  • Do not force a relationship
  • If you have to ask if someone if they’re your mentor, they aren’t.
  • Be mindful of your mentor’s time, and be prepared with questions and advice

 How Remarkable Women Lead, Susie Cranston and Joanna Barsh

  • 1 Sponsor, 5 Mentors and 25 Strategic Alliances
  • Finding the Sweet Spot:  High Level of Influence and High Level of Comfort

Gender Intelligence, Barbara Annis and Keith Merron