During a business flight, Josephine Umana mulled over how to support her junior employees. In her 20 plus years at Freddie Mac, Josephine has benefitted from a diverse set of mentors. That's when the idea sparked to create a mentoring program designed to give employees more than business insights — access to human capital.
"Some people think your work just speaks for itself. But along the way, you do need people to help advise and champion you," says Josephine, VP and Chief Operating Officer in Investments and Capital Markets (I&CM COO).
Josephine wanted to start off with a small pilot, so she initially focused on a subgroup of women within her department— pairing junior female employees with director-level mentors over two six-month periods. Thus, a model initiative was born in 2018.
Ruby in the Dallas office never had a mentor before. The program was outside of her comfort zone, especially after her initial mentor left the company. Then, things changed for the better. Juan of I&CM Risk Governance proved to be "an amazing mentor," according to Ruby.
In terms of professional relationships, research has proven that there are three critical relationships you need to grow your career: coach, mentor and sponsor.
Juan was instantly relatable. Ruby found someone who shared a non-traditional path. Both had switched college majors and earned degrees later in life. Juan passed his CPA exam while managing work and family, and Ruby is studying for her CFA under similar conditions.
"Work hard but also work smart," Ruby says of her enlightened approach. "Juan told me when I run into a work obstacle, find a solution or improve the process. Be resourceful."
Today, the fully implemented Elevate mentoring program includes I&CM COO employees in the McLean, New York and Dallas offices. Expanding on pilot's success, it has two differences — it's open to all men and women who are non-director employees in the I&CM COO department, and managers can choose to be mentors or mentees.
Manager Manju has worked at Freddie Mac for nearly 15 years. Tyler, her Elevate mentee, is fresh to the workforce. Naturally, Manju has become an instant resource. According to Manju, she encourages Tyler to roll up his sleeves in his current role. "First thing to focus on, you have to learn where you are. You have to come to a point where you are a subject matter expert," she says. "It boosts self-confidence to build your expertise." Then, the person can focus on advancing.
Traditionally, managers may be overlooked as mentors when mentees gravitate toward directors and above for guidance. Now with Elevate, managers, especially those without direct reports, can also coach junior staff. This is valuable because manager-level mentors get a close vantage point of day-to-day "work".
That's why Brad motivates his mentee, Hillman, to get proactive, show dedication and build out his knowledge base. "I said to Hillman, "When you're talking with your management team, press them for a plan for how you can grow. Then, dedicate yourself to the plan. When the time is ripe, you'll be in a better position for consideration.'"
Elevate may be a formal mentoring program, but every mentor emphasized seeking out guidance regardless of the parameters, formal or informal. There is a lot of value in soft skills: relationship-building, confidence and communication.
So, what aspects of Freddie Mac can improve your well-being? Maybe it's the mission, the campus, or another big deal — the people.