Giving Back through Mentoring and Sponsoring
Added on March 6, 2019 by Kindra Greene

“I am the product of great mentors and sponsors and I wouldn’t be here without people taking a chance on me,” said Deepa Subramaniam at the Chamber Strome Business series on March 6th.

Whether you know it or not, Deepa Subramaniam has likely had an impact on some aspect of your life. From Adobe Creative Cloud to Kickstarter, Subramanian has been instrumental in their creation and the success of many organizations in between.

The Hampton Roads Chamber means business and serves as an inspiring ignitor and in this Chamber collaboration with the Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business, Deepa Subramaniam presented on Mentoring and Sponsorship. As she discussed her success in a career field that has a reputation for not being the most inviting to women and people of color, Subramaniam proved she has been the one bucking the system. She has spent more than 15 years leading large product teams to collaboratively build innovative digital products and has an impressive bio that includes Principle Lead in the creation of Adobe Creative Cloud, Vice President of Product and Design at Kickstarter, Director of Product on the Hillary for America Campaign, as well as co-founder of her company Wherewithall.  

Subramaniam is about giving back and she credits her success to the people who poured into her. Addressing both the business leaders and Old Dominion University business students alike, she said, “Whether you are in a position where you can influence others or whether you’re thinking ‘what do I want to be when I grow up,’ it’s critical to lean on a network of support.”

Subramaniam articulated the key difference between mentorship and sponsorship. “Mentorship is great when you need help solving a problem, coaching is great when you want help exploring  a problem, and sponsorship is about directly providing opportunity,” she said. Having multiple mentors was encouraged to give mentees a broader perspective.

Even if you’re not in a position of leadership, you can both mentor and sponsor someone else. Some tips included something as simple as passing along a book that has helped you grow, to praising someone’s work publicly and putting them on a project.

Suggestions on how to find a sponsor began first with doing great work. “You must make it easy for people to vouch for you.” She also suggested finding someone who knows your work product, knowing how you specifically want to grow, keeping the sponsor updated and giving back to continue the cycle of sponsorship. “When you are a sponsor you will grow as the person your sponsoring grows,” Subramaniam said.

Highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, Subramaniam discussed the concept of in-group bias and encouraged people to think about the people you have suggested work on projects, asked for advice or referred to your company. “If they all look like you, you’re practicing in-group bias. Underrepresented or marginalized people are over mentored and under sponsored. So, I encourage you to fight the thought that you don’t have influence. Do your homework, and be a good ally, keep listening, and explore the ‘ickiness’ in your organization which may reveal the systems of privilege in place.”

Subramaniam discussed the importance of building a culture in an organization that breaks out of privilege, reinforces good behavior, and supports being intentional about strategies for success.

Subramaniam’s own success, her obvious imprint on the technology industry and her passion for giving back to others was an inspirational way to begin Women’s History Month and to wrap up the last Chamber Strome Business series event of the academic season.  

Thank you to our sponsors: Series Presenting Sponsor Union Bank & Trust and Host Sponsor Westin Virginia Beach Town Center