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A guiding hand can help.

When it comes to moving up the corporate ladder, it's not always who you know, but how senior-level executives at your company perceive you. For black professionals, that's where corporate-sponsored mentoring programs come into play. These programs can often turn lower-level, less visible employees into corporate stars.

Whether your company has a formal mentoring system or encourages informal meetings with a pre-selected group of senior executives and proteges, one thing is clear: Most businesses look favorably upon the sharing of information that results from those relationships.

"I never had a mentor before because I used to think it was an informal process available to a select few," says Rod Ware, a project leader with the information services division at Corning Inc., a $2.9 billion conglomerate in upstate New York. But as a participant in a 3-year-old company-sponsored "coaching" program, Ware says that having a mentor for the past two years taught him the corporate ropes and helped him focus his goals.

"I don't think I would have made the progress I've made without a mentor," says the 33-year-old Southeast Missouri State University graduate, who joined Corning five years ago as a senior engineer. "In college you get technical experience, but a mentor can teach you how to manage effectively and develop the necessary skills to move into the next position."

While some mentoring programs, like Corning's, matches prospective coaches with lower-level staff, programs at other companies follow a less-structured route of letting interested parties find each other. "We don't have a formal program, but we try to identify people in the organization who either want or would benefit from having a mentor," says Wanda Cumberlander, director of people diversity at CIGNA, a Philadelphia-based insurance company.

One of the people CIGNA identified as a key player on its coaching team was Mary Hewlett, Cumberlander's protege and CIGNA's vice president of central services, who often mentors individuals inside and outside of the company. "The best way to find a mentor is to find an individual you feel comfortable with, someone you trust," advises Hewlett. Meeting potential mentors at work-related or charity functions can also open doors to a mutually beneficial relationship in the future, she adds.

While mentoring has its obvious advantages, black professionals must guard against relying solely on one individual to boost their career. "One should always have multiple mentors at different times in their career," says Price Cobbs, president of Pacific Management Systems, a management consultant firm based in San Francisco. "And you don't need to showcase who your mentor is because it might make others feel like you're getting special treatment. You also need to meet with them on a regular basis, not just when you're having problems."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Serant, Claire
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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