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As a Vietnamese American, I make time each year to reflect during Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year, my reflection led me to discover my family’s immigration journey.
It all started in Tucson, Arizona. I was six, and the only thing I remembered was becoming familiar with the Harlan family, a kind couple who extended empathy and took in our family. The Harlans connected us to a church organization that later became our extended family. The church taught us the survival skills we needed in a new foreign country like learning basic English, navigating a new job as a horse rancher, and understanding the American school system — where everyone looked different than us.
After a year, my family struggled to acclimate to the dry Arizona heat. Finally, with the newly gained confidence my parents developed by working with the church, they loaded up all six kids into a used car the Harlans provided to us and headed West.
Life happened and we lost contact with many of the people we first met in Arizona. Forty years later, I had the opportunity to reconnect with the Harlan family and was beyond grateful. I had so many questions! I wanted to know about my family’s beginnings and the people who helped us. They wanted updates about my family — how we negotiated the unknowns of living in the US and where we are today. We had so much to catch up on.
When I thanked the Harlans for taking a chance on us and showing us the kindness that gave us the American dream, they surprised me with another gift that I’ll always keep with me. They returned the gratitude and said, “Thank you for your kind words, but we didn’t do anything. We gave you a used old car, and you became successful independently. We could have given someone else the same car and they wouldn’t have had the same outcome. The difference was you saw the possibilities. Your family put in the work; you took it to the next level and were driven to succeed.”
I was really touched — and it made me realize that being a sponsor for a family was no different than being a sponsor in the workplace.
Sponsoring Others to Do More and Be More
Executive sponsors have the knowledge, expertise, and more importantly, the network to change lives. However, in a work sponsorship relationship, it’s not the sponsor’s connection that makes a person become a great leader. Sponsorship is a dynamic, two-way process in which the sponsors share their experiences and extend their capital — and those being sponsored must capitalize on that opportunity and own their journey. It takes tenacity and drive to leverage that opportunity to do more, learn more, and go big together.
We can pay it forward by participating in mentorship or sponsorship initiatives — no matter where we are in the organization. To begin as a sponsor, ask yourself: What do I have to offer someone more junior in his or her career? What role do I want to play in creating the next talent? How do I own my professional journey?
Driven, empathetic sponsors help create equitable opportunities for women and those in underrepresented groups. As a result, companies have better opportunities to retain top talent.
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