“Courage” - YWLC Mentor Ms Stacey N Lacy’s powerful advice for her mentee and YWLC Chairperson, Wong
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Ms Stacey N Lacy, Managing Director, Head of Operations & Technology, Citibank N.A. Singapore, and Wong Jia Yun, Regional Business Development Manager, VISA, were one of the mentor-mentee pairs under YWLC’s Mentorship Programme 2019. In this exclusive interview, they share their experiences during the programme and advice for prospective applicants.
How would you describe the mentorship style that you both have built, and how does that play out in your mentor-mentee interactions and relationship?
Stacey: My two mentees are quite different in their personalities and so are our interactions when we spend time one-on-one or together. The topics that we discussed definitely resonated with my early career experiences and so it’s been fun sharing the good and bad while understanding how my mentees make decisions with respect to their own career progression. What’s been interesting is seeing how much courage my mentees have and yet at the same time the need to seek reassurance to actually take the step forward.
Jia Yun: Interestingly, I think the mentorship interaction or style has evolved over time. What started off as more of a strictly professional or formal relationship has now become more multifaceted and open in nature. A turning point - that thankfully happened in my early meetings with Stacey! - was when she advised me very perceptively that I tend to take some time to start being more direct and open to individuals who are senior to me, which could inadvertently impact my relationships at work. Since then, I’ve opened up to her about my vulnerabilities and difficulties, both personally and professionally. This has definitely helped us to bounce ideas off each other, and share what we see or experience in our lives - down to our latest favourite book, relationships, etc.
Stacey has two mentees this round, and we’ve also done joint group lunches with the three of us - conversations can get really interesting because we’re all so different! It’s extremely empowering to be able to be a part of such a dynamic relationship where we could move from casual and fun topics, all the way to the really tricky or serious ones.
How has the mentorship experience shaped or impacted you, whether personally and/or professionally?
Stacey: Being a mentor is a privilege in my view, as you avail your nuggets of experiences and learnings to your mentee. Professionally, it gives me the opportunity to continue spending time with young talent, understand their thought process and what they desire, and gives me insights on ways I could better develop and groom them more effectively. Personally, it infuses and motivates me to be even more committed to ensuring that we are supporting our aspiring women to dream big and take more risks in their career.
Jia Yun: A major takeaway for me is that I’m a worrywart! As the Chairperson of YWLC, as well as a new product lead in a relatively new industry, there’s a lot of strategic stakeholder engagement, impression management, and long-term planning that I need to do and - often in my own mind - expect to excel at all the time. The mentorship experience and Stacey’s coaching has really helped me to learn how to be more comfortable with my strengths and weaknesses, do less and obsess (as per the wise words of Morten T. Hansen in the book Great At Work), and be that reasonably best version of myself in YWLC, at work and with my loved ones.
More broadly, the mentorship experience has also inspired me to do the same for others. I think many people - women and men - in our society are often uncomfortable with giving and receiving constructive feedback, even if it’s for the benefit of other parties. Stacey’s a great role model in that aspect, and I’ve already started looking for different ways to ‘mentor’ others as well.
Do you have any words of advice for new mentees (or even mentors) who will be part of this new cycle of the Mentorship Programme?
Stacey: The mentor-mentee relationship takes time to nurture and my advice for the mentees is to be proactive, which is key. For the mentors, it’s always good to give your mentees time no matter how busy your schedule is. There is no excuse for not having time for your mentee.
Jia Yun: Be open, and be proactive. Often, good mentors might point out the things that we need to work on and many times, we might tend not to agree with them initially. I think we all need to start from a position of trust and transparency in this relationship to get the most out of it, as well as help your mentors do the same. As for proactiveness, the YWLC mentors are really busy people, so do be sure to always take the initiative to regularly reach out to share experiences, bounce ideas and simply show you care. We never know when these little touchpoints outside of the YWLC Mentorship events or scheduled one-on-one meetings might spark amazing ideas, exciting projects and a lifelong relationship which might otherwise not have transpired!
Stacey on her experiences as a mentor, and thoughts on mentoring in general
Do you have a mentor in your life? What important advice/lesson did he/she share and how has it influenced you, whether in your personal and/or professional life?
I have had many mentors in my life, and I certainly hope I will continue to have more in future. Mentorship is not a one-way street (mentees take and mentors give); I have learned as much from my mentors as much as I have advised them on a few things in life too.
Could you share with us your most memorable experience as a mentor with the Mentorship Programme?
It was a very sensitive topic on career progression and ambitions between couples. I was able to share some personal experiences and perspectives, and have probably opened up a little too much! But I felt strongly that if my perspectives can offer another window of unconventional views to my mentee, then I have done my job in widening her horizons!
What advice do you have for mentees who are meeting their mentors for the first time?
Take the time to let your mentor know who you are and what you are trying to get out of the programme. It may take a few meetings until you’re comfortable to ask the difficult questions, but DO ask them. The mentors may not have all the answers, but we are the sounding board to help think through options.
Being a leader in your industry, what advice would you like to share with young women who would like to excel in your industry?
Just working hard is not enough. Learn early on to integrate your achievements into your role and communicating your accomplishments openly but in a right way. It may take some practice to demonstrate our ambitions outwardly.
What is the one word that you would use to sum up your advice?
Jia Yun on her experience as a mentee
How did you decide on your chosen mentor? Did you choose a mentor from the same industry or a different industry/sector? If it was a different industry, what influenced your decision to do so?
While Stacey was from a similar industry, my choice was based on factors beyond that, and I’d recommend applicants to likewise consider their choices holistically.
I recently started work at Visa and in the payments industry, so Stacey (being in financial services/banking) was a very natural fit for me. However, I was more drawn to her substantial overseas work and study experience across China and the US, which I’ve also been through and would be keen to explore again.
On the other hand, unlike me, Stacey has been in the same organisation - Citi - throughout her career. I thought that would give me a good perspective on navigating the complexities of a large organisation, as well as understanding how I could succeed in one.
How did you prepare yourself before your first meeting with your mentor?
Being the planner that I am, I proposed two to three objectives to Stacey for me joining the Mentorship Programme and having her as my mentor, as well as an outline of three topics that I wanted to discuss for our first few meetings. I also read up about her previous professional experiences on the various social media channels (e.g. LinkedIn) to better understand her point of reference. While our first meeting flowed organically in some different directions (for the better!), it was definitely helpful for Stacey to understand how she could best support and interact with me.
Having said the above, for the planners amongst you, do allow some degree of flexibility, especially for your first meeting, i.e. be open to where the conversation takes you. A significant aspect of the mentor-mentee engagement is about chemistry and having a true, personal relationship with your mentor.
Having experienced the Mentorship Programme as a mentee and the valuable experiences and learnings that you have taken away from it, how would you like to ‘pay it forward’?
Through my work at YWLC, I am learning to flex my ‘coaching’ and leadership skills by driving the organisational strategy and growth of YWLC. A lot of this involves a combination of people management, coaching and ‘mentoring’, with the eventual aim of helping my team grow in their roles and beyond. Of course, that’s still very much work in progress (as my Exco knows!) and I’m still early in my learning journey as a mentor.
At work, I have also actively tried to coach my peers and juniors in areas that I can add value.
For the longer term, I do hope to be able to continue to help young women and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds better identify their strengths, as well as to find avenues for their growth and success.
Interview has been edited for clarity.