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Woman in Tech Leader of the Year Sue Graham Johnston: How To Be a Good Mentor and a Great Advocate

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Tech Ascension Awards “Woman in Tech Leader of the Year” Sue Graham Johnston of Juniper Networks spoke with us about the importance of helping to build a more diverse technology community. In this Q&A, Sue shares how not just to be a great mentor, but also how to use your leadership position to open doors and create opportunities for women and minorities.

You can also listen to Sue's feature interview on The Cyber Jack Podcast where she speaks to the the succesful M&A Juniper completed of 128 Technology and how other organizations can use the scucess as a framework to merge cutting-edge technology and top talent.

What does it mean to be a great mentor in today’s business environment?

The same it always has - share your time, advice, lessons learned - and most importantly - your connections - to help those around you who need it. Put simply, being a mentor is passing on your skills and using your platform to help. This can be top talent on your team that you feel isn’t getting the opportunities they deserve, or who need the extra push, or those who are often traditionally overlooked, such as women and minorities.

In today’s environment, some employees are having different workplace experiences than others, due to remote working and the pandemic. Recognizing that and understanding who in your organization can benefit - and in what ways they can benefit - will make you a successful mentor.

What are some ways that those in leadership can provide mentorship and advice in a hybrid/remote working model?

The pandemic has changed the traditional way of mentoring, for sure. But while you can’t just pop into someone’s office or grab them for a quick cup of coffee like before, there are some ways that the current work environment has helped the process.

When your team is remote, it helps bring more focus and efficiency to your transactions with them. You can focus on who on your team you should work with - and have direct, scheduled time to review goals, struggles and to plan out next steps.

I’ve also found that mentoring remotely has brought a greater focus from mentees on what they want from their career - and on taking the steps they need to get there. So, while the relationship isn't necessarily in-person, a strong, helpful connection can still be made.

You mention the importance of not just mentoring, but being an advocate for women and minorities within an organization. Can you describe what that means and how to do so?

Mentoring is very important - without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That said, the practice of advocating for an employee can be even more helpful, helping to give them the opportunity for growth and success that they might not otherwise have.

What advocating means is to go beyond just giving advice or guidance to someone you’re working with. It means being an ally - standing up for them and making a case for them - when they’re not in the room.

Many minorities, younger employees and even those you consider your top talent won’t advocate for themselves and need that assistance to secure the opportunity they deserve.

Why is it so important for those in leadership roles to work to make a more diverse workplace?

Without a diverse voice present at the table, not only are you not providing true representation to those you service and employ, you’re missing out on having a diverse point-of-view that can see things differently or share approaches you haven’t even considered. Recent data shows that almost 25% of CIOs at Fortune 500 companies identify as female. To truly understand and speak to a large portion of your potential audience you need a similar voice within your company.

Can you describe a successful mentorship/diversity and inclusion program you were involved with in your career - and what you learned from it?

I’ve been very fortunate to work with many incredible women leaders - some who have helped me literally from my first promotion all the way to today. I feel it is my responsibility to pay that effort forward with the next generations of employees.

When I was at Oracle, I joined the Oracle Women’s Leadership group. The emphasis of this group was on developing leadership skills and sharing the common experiences about what worked and did not work in being an effective female leader at a large technology company.