By Abbe Feder
Periodically you’ll hear my voice as I interview our AWE Leaders and Accelerators and share with your their stories. I recently had an excellent AWEportunity (we can’t help ourselves!) to meet Arthi Chandran, Vice President and Head of WW Health Economics and Outcomes Research, Becton Dickinson (BD).
Arthi sits on the board of 1000 Dreams Fund (1DF), a non-profit whose mission is to support talented young women in need by providing access to critical funding, resources, and meaningful relationships. The organization delivers microgrants to those young women with STEAM ambitions filling the funding “gaps” to enable their dreams. In the spirit of a little goes a long way, 1000 Dreams Fund is kicking off what we expect to be an annual campaign called mentorHER day planned around “The Day of the Girl” in October.
With the synchronicity of AWE, Arthi, and 1DF, we got to talking about mentor relationships, impact, and diversity in general. Here’s a little of our conversation:
AWE: Mentorship – please share with me its importance and meaning to you.
Arthi Chandran (AC): I believe that to be excellent we must first be humble. We all hold our own wealth of knowledge amassed not only through textbooks but rather through personal experience. Mentorship is an opportunity to pass that knowledge forward to ensure that others are accelerating against their own ambitions and delivering even greater impact.
I myself am a product of great mentorship. I am grateful for having mentors both in and out of the workplace with diverse experiences. Understanding how they navigated their own career choices, balanced personal goals with career ambitions, dealt with difficult situations and even failed, all helped to expand my own perspective, influencing the way I receive and respond to information and situations today. It’s also important to keep in mind that mentors can come in all forms. My peer mentors have been just as valuable as my seniors.
AWE: Who has been one of your most impactful mentors?
AC: Early in my career I formed a professional relationship with a leader in an adjacent line of work. I was intrigued by the work that she was doing and was eager to understand how our parallel paths intersected to drive impact in the healthcare industry. Her willingness to have the conversation and her interest in supporting me through experiential learning has shaped the way I approach new spaces today.
AWE: What made the parallel relationship important?
AC: It was important for me to see being problem-solving outside of a silo. By that I mean we weren’t on the exact same team, but it was related . It was related enough that when we had a meeting of the minds, she embraced and was willing to help connect the dots to the end of a shared goal on our separate teams – but from a different perspective. I saw that as an important way to work. I still use this practice when I lead my teams today. I like to bring people along for the journey who may not be directly impacted, but they share in the results or the outcome, the goal, from a different side. Today, that mentor and I are peers and still call on each other to collaboratively think through business challenges.
AWE: Describe your ideal mentor/mentee relationship.
AC: An ideal mentor-mentee relationship is a two way symbiotic learning experience. Although there may be situations in which a mentor is primarily delivering information and guidance to a mentee I don’t believe that any optimized mentor-mentee relationship is purely one-sided. Age and years of experience are no longer necessary or sufficient factors in advancing anyone’s ambitions. Instead, engaging in a partnership that encourages discussion, debate, and ultimately delivers greater diversity of thought is an ideal state.
AWE: We spoke briefly about mentorship vs. sponsorship. What do you see as the primary difference? Do you have a sponsor as well?
AC: A mentor is often long term and relationship oriented. These individuals provide guidance with regard to opportunity related choices and navigating new or difficult situations. Sponsors, on the other hand, are advocates for your career interests. These are the individuals who serve as your champions behind closed doors. At the end of the day you need both. You need people to help you navigate opportunities and grow into a talent that is ready to seize them. You also need to have people who can represent you and ultimately help bring those opportunities forward.
I do have both, but what is shared between all of them is a clear understanding of how I want to leverage my skills to contribute in my field and beyond. This does not translate into a job title but rather experiences. Experiences are a lot easier for people to seek out on your behalf and are often accompanied by increasing responsibilities in line with your ambitions.
AWE: How did you join 1000 Dreams Fund and how have you seen the impact?
AC: It was actually the amazing network that AWE created that lead to this incredible opportunity for me. An AWE Leader was looking for panelists for their International Women’s Day event in 2018 and, knowing that I had an interest in giving beyond my workplace, AWE brought this opportunity to me. It is my opinion that advancing women’s ambitions in STEM, to the end of expanding diversity of thought in these industries, requires a multilevel effort championed by industry, not-for-profit and academia alike. 1000 Dreams Fund is an organization with the vision to do exactly that in a way that I never considered. Through a microgrants model, 1000 Dreams Fund seeks to provide greater access to educational opportunities, by “bridging funding gaps” and aligning mentors to aspiring leaders, so that all young women, especially those most in need, may fully realize their potential.
Our microgrants go to some hidden costs like funding college visits, applications for various programs that provide experiential learning, and tools to add to a college or graduate resume. These are often overlooked line items in budgets, but they are critical experiences to pursuing opportunities.
It is this orientation and potential that drew me to the board. In a time where inclusion and diversity has taken a meaningful place on corporate agendas, organizations such as 1DF are in a unique position to help build the right talent pools to bridge the gap in diversity of thought that we have in organizations today. In just 3 short years, this organization has funded over 200 dreams and fostered even more priceless relationships. With the emergence of new corporate partnerships we are going to be able to do so much more and that’s where my focus has most recently been my focus has most recently been.
One of my first experiences with 1DF (photo left!) was through “Broadcast her,” which is a 1DF microgrant that was specifically created in conjunction with Amazon Games and HyperX e-sports to help advance their pipeline of women talent in the gaming field. The photo shows our recipient, Alesha, as her dream is coming true. Her ambition is to be a digital broadcaster. Her 1000 dreams fund grant and opportunity afforded to her the significant costs of her MBA applications, and funded her attendance at a gaming conference allowing her the networking opportunities to advance her ambition. See her specific story here.
AWE: How can a reader help or get involved?
AC: 1000 Dreams Fund will be launching “MentorHER Day” during the second week of October to not only raise awareness but also match young women from their network to successful women in industry for a 1-hour mentorship session, promoting the notion that a little goes a long way. Anyone can sign up to participate at one of this year’s events in New York, DC, Houston, Dallas or San Francisco as a mentor. In addition to mentors, we are seeking panelists and I know the AWE network is full of women who would make wonderful speakers. Please contact Christie Garton, Founder of 1DF (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly to learn more and sign up. Whether its with 1DF, your company associate resources groups, or another venue…give your time! We also love to share our success stories which can be found here.
One of the best quotes from Arthi during our time together was “we can’t be what we can’t see.” It was deeply resonant for me – and I continue to think about the world of women who champion diversity and inclusion, and the girls who may or may not have access to seeing those women. I fill with excitement thinking about the AWE network of Leaders who can sign on to make an impact with 1DF.