Jason Ortiz, Having & Being a Mentor
Jason Ortiz, 42, is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and lives with his boyfriend in New York City. He’s currently teaching courses that help students sharpen their communication skills and how they navigate workplace environments.
This is his experience being mentored by others and serving as a mentor himself.
When did you first experience having a mentor? How did you meet them? What role have they played in your life?
I first remember having a mentor in my undergraduate days. His name is Carl Thum and he was the Director of the Academic Skills Center. We met because I struggled with my classes and getting bad grades. An administrator recommended that I go there to get coaching from him and that’s how our relationship began.
Carl and I met weekly for a number of years. He helped me to discover that I had ADHD and worked with me on success strategies on how to go about my work. As our relationship deepened, I’d ask for his advice on classes, decisions I had to make as a student, and even ones into my future career path.
From Carl, I learned how to develop rapport and have a trusting relationship with someone older than myself, an adult figure who wasn’t my mom.
Having Carl as a mentor, I learned how to have a trusting, platonic, relationship with an older male figure. I had trouble forming healthy connections with men as a young man. Boys struggle with this because of archetypes of masculinity and I wasn’t any different. Being closed and gay added another layer of complexity to this for me. He was a great role model of a family man for me; his partner was a woman dean on campus and he had children he would speak of.
As you’ve continued to grow professionally how did you meet your other primary mentors?
Yesenia is another mentor of mine. She hired me as a trading assistant on her team. At first, our relationship was one between a manager and employee. As we grew closer and rapport developed, she became more of a mentor to me. On our trading desk, the pace of business and work moved at lightning speed and through the intensity, trust was built quickly. Within 3 months of being in the role, our relationship grew deeper. Yesenia taught me about how to consider the structure and politics of large, matrixed organizations and how our team fit into the mix. For me specifically, she’d counsel me on how my work and leadership were perceived. She’d make recommendations on career moves. If sounds like a lot of plotting and scheming, it wasn’t. She was just excellent and putting herself in other people’s shoes and understanding their motivations - a gift she shared with me.
Most importantly, she helped me bridge my personal identity with my professional one. It is because of her guidance and support that I was able to come out at work.
I’d say that because of the power she had over my career, she also played the role of a sponsor and advocate for me.
What would you recommend to others seeking a mentor? What should you look for?
There needs to be rapport and trust established with your mentor. Since you’ll seek counsel and advice from this person, it will need to be someone you respect and hold in high regard. And that feeling needs to be mutual. Both people need to “want” to be in the relationship.
To find a good mentor, look for someone who has an achievement that you admire or you would like to emulate. That way, you’ll naturally be interested to seek their advice on said accomplishment.
It’s not just anyone who has a senior role, leadership title, or higher station in life that can be your mentor. But you shouldn’t stop at these accolades.
Look for commonalities and interests that you share with that mentor. So, when you meet, you have other things to connect on. Discussing those shared interests will make the interaction more fun and the mentor pairing more successful.
What did you do to be a good mentee?
Being a good mentee means being prepared. Time is valuable and when you connect with your mentor, know what it is that you’re asking for advice on. Put together an agenda and share it with them in advance of your meeting.
Also, update your mentor on any progress you’ve made as a result of the advice you’ve followed. They’ll want to share in celebrating your successes.
What are the pros/cons of having a mentor?
Pros of having a mentor - learning from the wisdom of someone who has already been where you want to go. They share all their learnings with you so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
Cons - At times, situations can be very context specific, and a mentor’s advice may not be too helpful.
Mentorships are relationships that need to be developed. They require patience and time to be fruitful. You can’t expect that in your first meeting with a mentor, that you’ll get answers to all of your career woes. The good advice and help tends to come after you’ve had the time to establish trust and rapport together.
How much did identity matter when you were seeking a mentor or to mentor someone else? Are there factors that mattered related to any aspect of your own identity outside of a common interest in a specific kind of work? (For example, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and/or shared schools, contacts, interests, or hometowns?
When working with mentees, I’m mindful of the backgrounds of those I’m mentoring, and most of them have been LGBTQ, women, or POC. I will make time and provide coaching to them because I’m not sure if they’ll get the advice or feedback elsewhere. It’s not because my mentorship is so profound or groundbreaking. It’s that data shows that people of underrepresented communities don’t have broad enough networks or relationships to get ahead at work. I take that to also include a lack of mentor figures.
I’d call these informal mentees as well. I’ve met them at work, they are junior, and they’ve reached out asking for advice. We’ll work at the same company which gives us a shared context.
When seeking my own mentors, I’ve sought out people who have had interesting career path, I connect strongly with, and I admire. I should say - this has been me reaching out to leaders directly and not a match made through a formal mentorship program. Many times, they have been women, or gay, or of color. And at other times, they’ve been straight white men but, frankly, that’s been more rare lately. I’ll say that the most important thing I seek out is a sensitivity in the relationship that allows me to share openly. The security allows me to let my guard down, I have to feel safe and not judged. It allows me to receive the information more wholeheartedly.
When/How did you decide to serve as a mentor to someone else? When did you think you were ready to do so?
I signed up to be a Big Brother Big Sister mentor in college and my little sibling Kyle was my first formal mentee. He was in elementary school and loved skateboarding, video games, and McDonald’s. We hung out once a week and our relationship was rooted in spending quality time together. It was less about doling out advice and more about being a positive male role model for Kyle.
When I worked at S&P Global, I signed up for our Mentoring Program. It was a year-long program with the commitment of meeting at least a total of one hour each month. Signing up was as simple as putting in an application when the next cohort of the program launched.
For me, I used it as a way to connect with another employee at the organization that I would have never met. My mentee and I were likely paired together because he worked in commodities data and I formerly worked in commodities. I think my value to him was as an unbiased leader to listen to his work situations and offer my perspective.
What do you think are the attributes to being a good mentor?
Two attributes - having specific, detailed advice to share and a willingness to help others.
Everyone mentions that you have to be able to listen well and be empathetic. Well, yeah, of course. You’re helping others so it’s table stakes that you’re dialed into that person and hearing their challenges.
Good mentors are able to get to the root of what mentees are looking for guidance on. Many times, they aren’t able to communicate this. They may not have the words or have a complete or mature understanding of a situation. Or sometimes, they may not know how to ask for help or advice on something that’s a blocker.
A good mentor will discern this and address it. They’ll tell you what you need to know.
For example, in banking, I became obsessed with getting promoted to a director. I talked about it incessantly and made it my mission to reach my goal. As annoying as it might be, I wanted people to see me and think, “That’s Jason and he needs to get promoted!”
In comes Lisa, a senior leader who I got to know. She sat on the bank’s regional steering committee, and she would give me advice from time to time - about the LGBTQ ERG I ran and also other topics. I developed a close relationship with her because was always so warm. She knew that I was after that director promotion.
One day, she came to the trading floor where I worked and noticed my work attire. Friendship bracelets were a trend and I had about 20 of them tied on my forearm. I happened to be wearing an electric blue short-sleeved polo shirt. What I deemed fashion-forward was not how others would perceive it and Lisa would point it out.
Later that day, she and I were on the same the elevator down - just the two of us. She asked me rhetorically: When I thought of what banking directors looked like, did they wear friendship bracelets or loud polo shirts? These items weren’t doing me any favors and they didn’t fit with people’s mental map of what a director looks like.
Her advice was to cut off the bracelets, wear a long-sleeved shirt, and don a tie. “Gotta focus on executive presence!” she would exclaim. And the way she said it, we both thought it was the funniest thing. But it was memorable. That night, I did as she said and got rid of the bracelets, and started wearing ties daily. And I got my director title.
Another attribute is that good mentors should reach out to check in on their mentees. Some formal programs will state that mentees should take all of the initiative in a mentoring relationship. That’s a good way to establish a structure. But once rapport is built, a mentor should also check in on their mentee.
What would you say to someone who is doubting their readiness?
If the doubt stems from lack of time or commitment, then that’s a legitimate concern. You should only sign up for a mentorship program when you have time to dedicate to it. At minimum, plan on meeting your mentee at least once a month for an hour each month. You should be committed to it for at least six months. A year is better.
If the doubt stems from fear of what to share, that you won’t have good advice, or that there will be social awkwardness, I’d say to take the plunge and sign up. Ask your mentees to prepare an agenda in advance of your meetings that you can review so you can reflect on gems you’ll want to share. As you get to know your mentee better and establish a rhythm, you may not need to rely on this structure so much.
For the social awkwardness piece, this gets better once you’ve established rapport with your mentee. I’d recommend you try and meet in person. Or if it’s a virtual pairing – do it via Zoom with the camera on. I find that I feel more connected to someone when I see them.
What are the pros/cons of being a mentor?
Pros - Making the career path easier for someone else.
I tend to act like a sponsor for my mentees and do work for them. I’ll make intros and/or assist them in their careers, where I can. There’s the saying that you should “pull others up with you” and I visualize this. In my head, a mentor is on a high rung of a ladder and the mentee is below him getting pulled along. I think this work is time well spent and gratifying.
Cons - Sometimes you can’t help a mentee, no matter what you do. They have to develop and grow at their own speed. So, even if, as a mentor, you can see where they stumble and try to help, sometimes, they aren’t ready.
Mentees have to take initiative and do the work. A mentor can only do so much.
How have your relationship(s) with your primary mentors/mentees changed over time?
Like there are seasons to life, there are also seasons to relationships and mentoring relationships are no different. They can also transform into something else.
My former boss and mentor Yesenia, I’d call our relationship a friendship today. I no longer work for her, and she and I work in very different fields. She’s no longer my manager. We trade texts monthly or calls every few months, but it’s less on career advice and more just to catch up on what’s new in our lives.