Moving Beyond Mentorship

In 2011, when Ernst & Young CPA and partner Karyn Twaronite was asked to take on the company’s post of Americas inclusiveness officer, she had to think hard about the offer. Twaronite had long had a passion for promoting diversity in the workplace and had even helped create Ernst & Young’s Professional Women’s Network in the New York metropolitan area. But she knew that making diversity one of her primary responsibilities would be a big leap. “The goals are vast,” she says. With her family still young, she had to consider whether the time was right to dive into such a challenge. Ultimately, a conversation with her father helped her decide. “He made the observation that this was a pretty rare opportunity that might not come along again,” she says. Twaronite made the leap. DW talked with her about how it’s gone so far.

DW: Where does your passion for this work come from?
Karyn Twaronite: I came up through the client ranks. I saw people of color [and] or women who were underutilized.
And running talent management for our largest division, and then across the United States and Canada, I had the opportunity to look at gaps that women and people of color had, as relates to sponsorship. That’s a critical tool that we need to be disciplined about, to make sure it’s there equitably in the workplace.

DW: What do you mean by sponsorship? Is it the same as mentorship?
KT: Mentorship is when someone talks to you, giving advice and counsel and suggestions. Sponsorship has to do with how somebody talks about you when you’re not in the room. It’s when someone advocates for your advancement, your promotion, your hiring—putting his or her own skin in the game to advocate for you. Research shows that white men are 50 percent more likely to be sponsored than women. People of color are two-thirds less likely to be sponsored than white men.

DW: How do you make sure that equitable sponsorship happens?
KT: Seventy percent is the responsibility of the protégé. The protégé needs to consistently perform for the sponsor, so the sponsor has a reason to advocate. We educate protégés on how to be a meaningful protégé. We try to have programs that allow for our women and people of color to have the appropriate work experience that would tee them up to have sponsorship. And we educate sponsors on how to be a good sponsor. It’s important that people know how to sponsor, are aware of whom they are sponsoring, and are not just sponsoring people who look like them.

DW: Sometimes people aren’t inclusive because of biases they aren’t even aware of. How can you build awareness of unconscious bias and help people get beyond it?
KT: We’ve been doing work on unconscious bias training for about seven years. We want all the people who work here to understand that unconscious biases exist. We all have them. We work with Dr. Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard. We teach people to be aware of what their biases might be and how to check them at the door at appropriate times. We think it’s so important that we started doing unconscious bias training for partners. We are trying to make sure the environment is as inclusive as possible.

DW: What has been your biggest “aha moment” since starting to work on diversity?
KT: We have produced so many programs intended to help our women. Those are important, but the aha moment for me was to realize that we don’t need programs only for fixing the women, but also for fixing the environment. We need programs to help enable success, but it’s equally important that we educate our culture to be inclusive.

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