Cross Cultural Mentoring Panel highlights mentorship challenges, opportunities

  • Published
  • By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
  • Air Force Materiel Command

The Air Force Materiel Command recently hosted its first Cross Cultural Mentoring Panel with the goal to inspire and motivate individuals to seek diverse mentoring relationships as they grow in their careers.

Coinciding with the annual Black History Month Observance, the virtual event featured a panel of Black leaders from across the command, including Alphonso Thomas, director of Engineering and Technical Management at the Air Force Sustainment Center; Col. Jenise Carroll, 75th Air Base Wing commander, Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and Master Sgt. Aaron Trammell, Contracting superintendent, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, who shared their personal experiences and challenges as members of a minority demographic in the mentoring and career realms.

“Development and mentoring [are] important to growth across all career areas,” Thomas said. “This discussion today is a huge part of what it really takes to develop and grow.”

More than 350 individuals tuned into the event hosted on ZoomGov, with panelists answering questions on all aspects of mentoring relationships. The importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s career and seeking the advice of leaders from all demographics emerged as a recurring theme throughout the event, which emphasized reaching across cultural and gender boundaries in mentorship.

“I’ve been fortunate to have many life-long mentors, and that’s why I am here where I am today,” Carroll said. “I did not have anyone that looked like me … mentoring me throughout my journey, [but] that did not stop me from asking for mentorship. Knowing other people are being mentored … so you raise your hand and say, why not me? And I actually did that early in my career when I really wanted to do something. I think sometimes you do have to ask for what you want.”

According to the panelists, while race is not a predominant subject in mentoring conversations, they did agree that it was more often discussed when working with an individual of the same race or gender who is interested in how the mentor worked through a specific challenge or situation as a member of the same demographic.

In cross-cultural mentoring relationships, however, when race-related discussions emerge, being cognizant of cultural stereotypes and the unique nature of an individual’s life and career experiences is critical to openness, transparency and success.
The Air Force Materiel Command hosted an inaugural Cross Cultural Mentoring Panel, Feb. 22, 2022, in conjunction with Black History Month. The event provided an opportunity to inspire and motivate future Air Force leaders to better understand barriers experienced by members of certain demographics when pursuing mentoring relationships. (Video courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command)
“It's very easy to say or ask questions to an individual about a demographic, [but] often that individual cannot answer that question for the demographic. You know, ‘How does an African American think about this?’ I can only tell you what one African American thinks about this,” Thomas said. “When that happens, you've got to be sure that, first of all, you respect each other in that mentor-mentee relationship … you respect each other enough to say when there are discussions that are either inappropriate, or discussions that may be potentially offensive. You've got to be up front and do that. But still, reach out, be proactive. Look for a diverse group of folks to mentor.”

The event also provided panelists the opportunity to share personal mentoring experiences that shaped them in their growth as a leader. The leaders also offered advice to those who were interested in becoming a mentor but were unsure if they were ready or how to start.

“When you accomplish something … whether it’s a degree, professional license, or a career success, you are ready to be a mentor. When people come to you and ask, ‘How did you do that?’ and you can tell them about your experiences, that is when you are ready,” Trammell said. “You can help out the next generation or the person coming behind you to accomplish it, too.”

This event is the first in a series of diverse, Cross Cultural Mentoring Panels planned in 2022 across AFMC. The events are one of several ongoing efforts to drive greater diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility across all areas. The goal of the events is to educate and empower Airmen of all demographics to pursue mentorship and to better understand the challenges others face when working to achieve their career goals.

The next AFMC Cross Cultural Mentoring Panel is scheduled for March 30 at 2 p.m. ET to coincide with the Women’s History Month Observance. Additional details will be posted on the AFMC Mentoring site.