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Beauty Shop Ladies Weigh In On The Importance Of Mentors


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women journalists and commentators take a fresh cut on the week's news. Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Bridget Johnson. She's the Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media. That's a conservative, libertarian news and commentary site. Writer Veronica Miller is a contributor for xoJane and thegrio.com. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief and founder of The Wise Latina Club. That's a Latina-focused website covering politics and lifestyle. And Danielle Belton is the creator of a pop-culture and politics blog, blacksnob.com. Welcome, everybody. Thank you for joining us.





MARTIN: So I thought I would pick up where Bernie Shaw just left off - kind of a bracing message for this hour of the day...

BELTON: It's very sobering.

MARTIN: (Laughing) If you haven't had your coffee yet, you don't need it. But - Danielle, why don't you start? Has anybody - has a mentor ever told it to you just that way?

BELTON: No, no one's ever put it to me that bluntly. But that is what happened. There is a price to success. And I feel like so many people were supportive of my creativity and ambition, it never occurred to them that there would be a downside. And they didn't say that a workplace doesn't really support women if you want to have your own family and children. So if you are really ambitious in your career and you move around a lot, it's going to be hard to find that support. So you probably won't have a family right away - if, possibly, even at all. Like, I'm not married. I don't have kids. I really wanted those things, but as I pursued my career, I could see - I felt like it was almost irresponsible for me to do so.

MARTIN: Do you wish that somebody had told it to you just that way? I guess the question, I think, for everybody would be, is there something you wish a mentor had told you?

BELTON: I wish they had told me how hard that part was going to be - about the loneliness - 'cause I am such a social person. That has been tough, for me to be without family.

MARTIN: Bridget, what about you? Bridget J., what about you?

JOHNSON: I think what I've heard more from mentors is how arduous it's going to be on the journey there and the sacrifices you'll have to make at that point. You know, you'll have to work super-long hours, say goodbye to holidays, you know, learn how to cook from the newsroom on a holiday.


JOHNSON: But I don't know so much about what it's like when you get there - and maybe because I don't know if mentors aren't wanting to push your dreams too much to that ultimate apex, or if it's just not something that crosses their mind.

MARTIN: Is there something you wish you had been told along the way that perhaps you are passing on now, to the people that you're mentoring?

JOHNSON: That's a really good question. I think that it would be more to find balance in your life. And that's just something I'm learning now, actually. So...

MARTIN: Viviana, what about you?

HURTADO: Well, I can't disagree with the Danielle or with Bridget. But that's assuming that you have a mentor, which Bridget and Danielle have. And I've actually never had a mentor in all of my years, as an academic, when I was getting my PhD and I thought I was going to be a scholar, and as a journalist, certainly, and now as an entrepreneur, which has been the last couple of years of my life. And I really do have to say, Michel, that not having a mentor and then the other Board - right? - of You Inc., an adviser, a sponsor, a champion. Not having those presences in my professional and my personal life, have been the absolute most single, detrimental thing to my career.

MARTIN: You know, Viviana, I have to be honest with you. You are not the first woman I've heard say that. You are certainly not the first woman of color I've heard say that. And you are, by no means, the first Latina woman I've heard say that - Latina professional. In fact, I heard a very high-powered Latina professional speaking at a professional conference a number of years ago who said exactly the same thing. She is now working for a big kind of multinational communications company. And she said this is the first time in her life that she's ever had a mentor. Why do you think that is?

HURTADO: Gosh, I can say that in my case, I think something that happened is that I missed - it's just the field. I went into journalism and broadcast journalism, and I don't have to tell anybody here how brutally competitive it can be. And oftentimes you're just seen as competition, particularly when you're younger and you're coming up. I think another thing that happened to me is that I may have misidentified a mentor, particularly men. And I know that this might be a little bit loaded here, but in a couple of cases where I thought somebody was taking an interest in me professionally, it did not turn out to be the most professional of intentions. The third thing that I would say is that I was also...

MARTIN: Getting a lot of nods of agreement, here.


MILLER: Tell it, sister.

MARTIN: Which is a bummer because, you know, the data shows - in fact, we just reported on this just the other day. You know, the data shows that there's a study out of the University of Colorado that found that women and nonwhite executives who push for women and nonwhites to be hired and promoted actually suffer in their own performance reviews, whereas white men who do that are rated more highly. This is a paper to be presented at an Academy of Management conference next month. And I just think that's really - there's a lot of stuff to think about there. That's a bummer.

HURTADO: Yeah. Just a couple more points, though, that happened to me. I think we've heard about "Waiting For Superman," just that overall waiting for. In my case, it was waiting for (Spanish spoken). I was waiting, maybe, for a Latina mentor. And then the fourth thing I would say is oftentimes, if you're a woman of color, particularly Latina, you're just going to have to go outside of that safety zone. And maybe your mentor is going to be a white man, or an African-American woman, or a gay man. So think about it that way - I think those are the contributing factors to me not having a mentor.

MARTIN: Veronica, what about you? You're kind of our millennial friend here.

MILLER: (Laughing) Yeah.

MARTIN: Tell us your thoughts about that. First of all, I'm curious; do you think you've had mentors in your career? And is there something you wish they'd told you, that they have not, that you think you will pass on to people that you mentor?

MILLER: A couple of things. Well, I've absolutely had, like, a host of mentors in my career. You, obviously, are one of them. I've worked for TELL ME MORE for a solid, I think, year or so. And we became - you became a mentor to me in that short time.

MARTIN: Oh, thank you.


MILLER: And I think the one thing that I think - the only thing I can think of that I wish people had told me or that I got a sense of is what Viviana alluded to, is that when you're a woman of color, sometimes you have to look outside of that circle for other people who can be your advocate - 'cause I think coming in as a young kid - a young, black girl trying to find my way in the industry - you know, you can be kind of, like, wary of people outside of your experience. And I think there were opportunities for me to have mentorship relationships, but I didn't really recognize it. And so now I'm, you know - now I'm interested in meeting people who, you know, on both ends, who are interested in what I'm doing and helping me and people who I feel like I can help down the line.

MARTIN: You know, I confess - OK, let me correct the record, then. Veronica, guess what? Look for people outside your experience to also be mentors to you. Let me just be clear and say that...


MARTIN: If I didn't say that when you worked here. And I think - you know, that's one of the, I think - you know, there are lots of disadvantages to being the first wave to do things. But when I was starting in journalism, there were - there was one African-American woman that I worked for. And she was great and awesome. But if that was the only person in my universe that was in my sites - I mean, a lot of the people who were mentors to me were people who still kept flasks in their desks.


MARTIN: This is how old-school it was back in the day. OK? Who were known to throw hands in the parking lot over a parking space, I'm just mentioning. That was how they rolled back in the day. And, you know, there was one guy I remember. I'll just tell you one name. He was a guy who was the night rewrite man. He worked down at the police shop. And I remember the first time I was sent down there to see - for him to sort of show me around, they got a call came in to send me out on an assignment. He dug into his pocket and handed a fistful of nickels and dimes and quarters and says, always carry a fistful of change, honey.


MARTIN: And that was his advice. Now, of course, you know, we have smartphones now, these days. But still, he was - your mentors can be, you know, anybody. They really can be. But, you know, there is that - like Viviana said, you can't ignore that. And if you're just joining us, we're in the Beauty Shop. We're having our panel of writers and journalists, Bridget Johnson, Viviana Hurtado, Danielle Belton and Veronica Miller. We're talking about mentorship. So now that we've talked about kind of those experiences, do you - Danielle do you have an opportunity to pay it forward - and how? How do you fit that in, and what wisdom do you want to pas son?

BELTON: I would say that I've had lots of opportunities to pay it forward, mostly because I work in media. And I work in digital media, specifically. And so I'm constantly inundated with emails from young women who found me through my blog. And they want to know how to get started. They want to know how they can become a freelancer. They want to know how to improve their social media background. They want to know how to start a blog. And so I meet lots of really young, ambitious people all the time who are just kind of interested. And I feel like because so many people helped me - with the whole, like, looking for people outside of your experience - I didn't have enough sense to know that someone outside of my experience wouldn't want to mentor me. Like, I'm awesome. Why wouldn't you want to help guide me on my path?


BELTON: So I feel like I had so much wonderful help, I, like - I'm obligated. If someone has the talent, and they have the ambition and the drive, sure, I'll toss down some advice.

MARTIN: Bridget, what about you? And do you want to throw down some advice now? - because you are the boss lady. You're the D.C. editor. You're the boss lady. Why don't you throw down some wisdom?

JOHNSON: I am the boss lady. But actually - so I was thinking yesterday about, you know, does a mentor have to be somebody who has this Yoda-ish, constant, guiding force in your life? Or is it somebody who can even just drop one sentence and have that impact on somebody's life? And in my case, it would be a member of Congress who's retiring at the end of this term. And three and a half years ago, when I was at The Hill newspaper, I was doing a story on Christians coming under attack in Iraq. And I was going to run it on Christmas.

And so I was talking to Frank Wolf, one of the people behind it, rep. from Virginia. So I'm interviewing him, and he suddenly interjects, in the middle of the interview, in his really gruff voice. He's like, what you're doing here is good work. And I was like, OK, the quality of my story? OK, thanks. No, he said it again. So I got it - what you're doing is a good thing for others. And so ever since then, you know, I've kind of minded the words of Frank Wolf. You know, when I'm considering, you know, whether what I'm doing is a work that accomplishes a good. So the lesson - how will you use this platform that you have? - is the one thing that I would impart on other people.

MARTIN: Thank you for thank. Viv, what about you? You're also a boss lady.

HURTADO: Yeah, and I think...

MARTIN: And I know you're a mentor too 'cause you're nice enough to bring one of your mentees with you today.

HURTADO: Yes, yes. And I think what I'd say is - I'm going to push back a little bit to what Danielle said about giving and giving and giving. And the truth of the matter is, like Danielle, like Bridget, like Veronica, I get a bazillion emails a day - Facebook messages, tweets - about people that are saying - telling me their story and, you know, wanting to connect and, I can learn so much; can you be my mentor? Or can I get some advice from you? Can I take you to a cup of coffee? And I've had to actually walk that back tremendously because I just am being pulled in so many directions. I'm literally being dismembered. However, I am very intentional about choosing the, particularly women, that work with me because it is a commitment. It's a long-term commitment. And it's not just me going to the mat, but it's themselves going to the mat for themselves and for me, when it's appropriate.

MARTIN: I think that's important advice and important to hear. All right, Veronica. You get the last word.

MILLER: Well, I'm not only in writing, but I've also moved into illustration and fashion design, as you know. And in that time I've had the opportunity to speak in front of groups of young women. There's an organization in Philadelphia that gets girls involved in the STEM fields through design and through creativity. And I take that very seriously because what I've learned is that there's a dearth of, particularly black women or women of color, in the design and the creative and visual fields working professionally. And the amazing thing that happens is, when I meet these girls and they see that, you know, I like to draw and I get paid to draw, in addition to other things, it clicks a light in their head that the things that they're good at and the things that they love to do are valuable. And what they know how to do is valuable. And what they know how to do can be, you know, an avenue of business or income for them. So it's very important for me to model that because I know what it is to be a frustrated creative and to think that your work doesn't mean anything to anybody. And I think that young girls should be encouraged to share what they know how to do.

MARTIN: Veronica Miller is a writer. She - and a designer, as she told you. She contributes to xoJane and thegrio.com - with us from Philadelphia. Bridget Johnson, Washington D.C. editor of PJ Media. Viviana Hurtado, founder and blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club. Danielle Belton, creator of the pop-culture politics blog blacksnob.com. They were all here in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for your contributions to the program throughout. Thank you all so much.

HURTADO: Oh, Michel. Thank you. And continue to tell us more.

BELTON: Thank you for letting us be part of it.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

MILLER: Love you guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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