Laura Dye, Having & Being a Mentor
Laura Dye, 44, is currently the Director of Organization Development at the Intel Corporation and resides with her husband and 2 children in Portland, OR. She works with business leaders to help them get better results and achieve more collectively. Her work may take the form of improving culture by shifting behaviors of how people are working together, or building new capabilities that are going to help the business run better. Outside of her work with Intel she has some side projects related to coaching and organizational development.
This is her experience being mentored by others and serving as a mentor herself.
Credit: Steven Heller / ArtCenter IG
When did you first experience having a mentor? How did you meet them? What role have they played in your life?
I met my first true professional mentor, Karen Hofmann, during my first summer internship in automotive interior design at Johnson Controls in Holland, Michigan, in 1999. She was one of the only other women working in the design studios at that time. I had just finished my second year studying industrial design at the University of Michigan. During that first internship, Karen introduced me to design research, a field within the field. She was working in the Advanced Concept studio and when I returned to work again for Johnson Controls the following summer, I got to move from working in the General Motors studio to working with Karen in the Advanced Concept studio. This meant that I went from designing storage systems for minivans, to envisioning future family-oriented vehicles with Lego designers from around the world. At some point during that 2nd summer, Karen essentially said to me that, if I really wanted to work in design, I should consider applying to ArtCenter, a design school in California. It was not an easy decision. I had just finished my 3rd year at the University of Michigan, but I did as I was told. I was accepted and later that year moved to Pasadena. That move shifted the course of my life.
That was 23 years ago. Karen herself moved back to California at some point and helped open the first California studio for Johnson Controls. She became a corporate sponsor on an independent study that Heather Emerson and I developed to focus on design research and strategy. After I graduated, Karen recommended me for an adjunct teaching role at ArtCenter. Years later, she recommended me to another ArtCenter alum, Marni Gerber, for a role at Nike. I moved to Portland, Oregon for that role 11 years ago in another move that shifted the course of my work for the decade to follow, now with a focus on turning my approach inward to support the consumers within organizations (aka business and functional leaders and employees). Karen and I continue to keep in touch. Last year she became the first woman president and CEO of ArtCenter College of Design and I, alongside Heather, was able to attend her inauguration.
As you’ve continued to grow professionally, how did you meet your other primary mentors?
I’ve met other mentors through the course of work; some have also been alums of ArtCenter. I’ve usually worked with or directly for them. They have encouraged me to explore certain areas of work, for example, Maureen Thurston, encouraged me to pursue my passion for business and leadership while I was in school for design. Svenja Leggewie encouraged me to pursue graduate studies in Organization Development while we worked together at Johnson & Johnson. Somi Kim gave me the opportunity to pursue work that merged design thinking and organization development while in a design strategy role. Stephanie Eller gave me the chance to move laterally within Nike to an Organization Development role–my first true functional shift from Design to HR. Kim Goff gave me a chance to move from Nike over to Intel and focus on leading an organization development team focused on culture transformation.
What would you recommend to others seeking a mentor? What should you look for?
Find the people who inspire you. I believe that mentors emerge when they see a passion or talent in someone that resonates with them on some level personally–for example maybe the individual has ideas that they have always wanted to try out but have not found the place to, or maybe the individual has peaked their interest with a new concept, or served up an opportunity in a way that they can’t say no to, maybe they are simply eager and open to learning. Maybe all of these things. I would recommend that people pursue areas of work that are authentic to who they are, that are connected to their purpose, and where the people in the room truly inspire them. When you are amongst people that inspire you, you’ll give your best. When you give the gifts that are uniquely yours, people will recognize this and be more likely to offer support.
Seek help when you need it. I would also encourage people to ask those same people that inspire them for help and to be open to receiving help. There have been a number of times in my life (and there will continue to be more), where I’ve had to make tough choices in order to pursue what was authentic to me (leaving the University of Michigan after 3 years to move cross country for ArtCenter was the first of many to come, moving from Design to HR was another pivotal change). I usually wrestle deeply with these kinds of decisions. I’m not one to struggle in silence, so I usually reach out to get advice and wisdom from others. And once I have done that, I’ve also had to be open to the answers that I received. Moments of decision making and internal struggle can help galvanize a mentor/mentee relationship.
Keep in touch. People get pulled into their day to day. If you have found someone that you’ve connected with, check in with them. Send them a text to say hello and find a time to catch up for a quick call. Send them a holiday card. Occasionally let them know that they have made a difference for you. There are some people (like the ones listed above) that I have decided are on my permanent holiday card list. They will not be getting rid of me anytime soon.
What did you do to be a good mentee?
I listen as best I can (I can be stubborn). When they offer something, I accept. When they call, I answer. If they ever ask for my support or help, they have it 100%.
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?
All of my mentors have been women. The majority of them have come from the design field and 4 have come from my alma mater, ArtCenter (either alum, instructors, or both) though 2 of my those I met through an employer first and then we established that we both went to ArtCenter.
My mentees have ranged in ethnicity and gender. Most are also connected through ArtCenter which has an amazing community of alumni, a focus on work experiences like internships, and in bringing in instructors who are also working professionals (for example I was an adjunct instructor at ArtCenter while working at Johnson & Johnson). Others I met through my work at Nike and Intel. I have even met people on social media platforms like LinkedIn that I have ended up mentoring because they were authentically looking for support and had a compelling approach and story. My belief is that, as a woman, my style is (hopefully) approachable, nurturing, and encouraging.
When/How did you decide to serve as a mentor to someone else? When did you think you were ready to do so?
I feel extremely fortunate that my mentors found me (or I found them) at important moments in my career journey. For that reason, I believe in paying it forward.
After I taught at ArtCenter, I had a couple students who later interned for me at Johnson & Johnson and kept in touch as they started their careers. They would text occasionally to say hi or ask for advice about their career and I would text back, or we would set up a call. In this way, I did not have much time to consider my readiness. I cared about each of these individuals so I did what I could to be there for them. I felt I had some experience in this because I am also a big sister in my family of origin. Over the years, offering support has been one of the roles I’ve taken on in my family (for better or worse–you can ask my two younger brothers who each have careers of their own).
Around the time that I got the first job that I was truly proud of was when I felt ready to start mentoring. I was 29 and proud that my aspirations, hard work, and financial investment (aka student debt) had yielded a result that I wanted to share with others. In this role, Design Strategy Manager for Johnson & Johnson’s Global Strategic Design Office, I also had the responsibility for hiring interns over consecutive years, from my alma mater. The interns began asking questions and then keeping in touch after their internships. That organically began my path as a mentor.
What do you think are the attributes to being a good mentor?
Showing up. Answering the call and being aware that it may come from an unexpected source.
Seeing something in someone that they might not yet see and helping them recognize that and find a path forward to put their gifts to good use.
Sharing. Sharing what worked for you but acknowledging that each person has their own path–it may not be the same for them.
Patience. A friend told me that his adult children will sometimes playback advice he shared with them decades before. He had not been sure that they heard him at the time, but they had tucked those words away for when they were useful. Mentoring and being a mentee can be similar. You may not be able to understand or apply some wisdom shared until years later, but it becomes part of the toolkit you pull from.
Availability. Don’t put too much pressure on the need for excessive availability. Availability may mean a 15-minute call at the right time. That can be enough to make a difference.
Listening. Being able to discern when someone simply needs another person to listen versus when they are asking for advice or direction.
Being a Mirror. Of course, most important is helping someone to hear themselves and playing back their inner wisdom so they can hear it more objectively.
What would you say to someone who is doubting their readiness?
Often the biggest gift you can give someone is simply believing in them and listening when they’re in need. If you can do those two things, you’re ready. And if someone has reached out to you, that’s because they see something in you that they admire. Accept the compliment and say thank you by being there for them.
Something else to consider doing, is asking the person what mentorship would look like for them. It might simply mean checking in every few months to see how they’re doing. Don’t let the word intimidate you or stop you from contributing. It doesn’t have to be formal or complex. It may also ebb and flow over time.
What are the pros/cons of being a mentor?
Giving to others feels good.
Helping someone see their potential and make progress is rewarding.
Great mentor and mentee relationships are reciprocal–the learning and the support.
People have to find their own way forward, it requires patience and openness to mentor
Ultimately each person owns their path and that might look different than what you envision for them. The important thing is that they know someone believes in them.
How have your relationship(s) with your primary mentors/mentees changed over time?
Over time, I have tried to turn the tables on my mentors in the sense that I try to give back to them as much as I can and also make sure they know how grateful I am. As a young person and in challenging times, I know I’ve been consumed with my own needs. I was fortunate enough to have others step in. My hope is that I can thank my mentors through selflessness. This might mean sharing what I’ve learned when it’s helpful to a situation they may be in, pitching in to support an effort they have in work or life, checking in from time to time just to say hello, or simply expressing my thanks and acknowledging that they made a difference for me.