We’re passionate about the world of work, and how we can make it better. To help satisfy our curiosity, we’ve launched an interview series where we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better workplaces.
We’d love to get to know you a bit better, tell us a bit about your backstory.
I’m originally from Vietnam. As a young child, I fled Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh City) on a harrowing boat journey with my family at the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975. We were part of what came to be known as the “boat people” refugee exodus. We lived in a couple of refugee camps before my family was resettled in Duluth, Minnesota with the help of the Lutheran Church there. We went from the tropical weather of Vietnam to the below-freezing temperatures of Minnesota! And if you add to that the fact that none of us spoke English and we had nothing but the clothes on our backs…well, you can imagine the challenges. Being an immigrant, though, teaches you a lot about life. What’s important, what’s not? How life can become devastating in an instant, and how you can rise from the ashes.
I eventually not only learned English but chose a profession where English language and communication skills were critical to my career growth. I became a seven-time Emmy award-winning television news reporter and anchor for two decades in San Francisco before pivoting a few years ago to become co-founder and CEO of the Global Mentor Network. For me, GMN is very much a pay-it-forward venture, a way to help others in their development and leadership journeys since so many people have helped me in mine.
If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?
I’m pretty outgoing and enjoy hearing people’s stories. I love people who can make me laugh out loud, but I also love people who can make me pause and reflect. Here are some actual words friends have used to describe me: energetic, effervescent, analytical, driven, kind, thoughtful, community-minded, funny, serious.
Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out?
There was an instance when both main anchors on the flagship evening newscast at the CBS station where I worked had the night off. My female African-American colleague and I were tapped to be the substitute anchors. It was a big deal and I was excited. After the newscast, some really nasty emails from viewers came in criticizing the station for having two women at the anchor desk. This was more than 15 years ago when primary anchor teams always consisted of one man and one woman. Some viewers also didn’t like seeing two women of color as the “faces” of the big show. One even told me to “go back where I belong.”
It was hurtful, but also made me more determined to do my part to make sure underrepresented groups have pathways for career growth, visibility, and leadership opportunities. As the saying goes: “If you can see it, you can be it.”
What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?
When I was a student at U.C. Berkeley majoring in Rhetoric (yes such a major exists!), I anchored a news program on the college radio station. That was when I fell in love with journalism. The news director told me if I wanted to succeed, I needed to change my name because no one would ever hire someone with a strange name like “Thuy Vu” as a news broadcaster. At the time, there were no Vietnamese-American journalists on TV news in the US.
I was worried about my job prospects and seriously considered changing my name to Nicole since I really admired a girl named Nicole on my dorm floor. After much stress and internal debate, I decided to keep my name because it was my heritage. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made because my unusual name made me more memorable to viewers, plus I heard from so many Vietnamese people how proud they were to see someone with a Vietnamese name on the air.
A big lesson I’ve learned is when you’re conflicted about something, be true to yourself.
Thanks for giving us some insight into who you are! Let’s jump into things. When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?
We need to be more creative and thoughtful about how and where we do our jobs. In this increasingly hybrid work world.
People are often taking dysfunctional practices from the office environment and simply shifting them to their homes.
We need to completely reimagine the way we share knowledge, make connections and build a sense of community within organizations.
For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?
Lack of agility, courage, and curiosity.
What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today? And, how do you recommend going about it?
The pandemic has been extremely challenging for everyone. We know there are high levels of employee attrition and disengagement, as evidenced by reports from McKinsey, LinkedIn, and other sources. They highlight some very interesting employee trends:
- “Quiet quitting” - 80% are disengaged, costing US companies about $350 billion annually
- 80% of Gen Z workers want to work at companies that align with their values
- 75% desire more opportunities to learn new skills and expertise
What can companies do about this? They can provide growth opportunities and meaningful connections through multi-faceted, scalable mentorship and leadership development programs online.
These programs are mutually beneficial.
- For employees—the programs help them broaden perspectives, develop skills, increase confidence, and ultimately grow their careers.
- For employers—employee engagement and retention are improved while creating a pipeline of internal candidates for leadership roles to drive the business.
Hybrid work poses its own set of challenges, but it also offers employees the chance to virtually connect with peers and leaders they may not have otherwise had a chance to meet, much less learn from, in a traditional office environment.
I know it can be tempting for busy employees and managers to put mentorship programs on the back burner, but this is a mistake since they’ll be missing out on an effective way to keep employees engaged and happy.
With the help of technology, it’s easier than ever for leaders to automate matching mentors and mentees based on their interests and goals. Just doing matches, however, isn’t enough. At Global Mentor Network, we take a much more holistic view to make sure success stories are shared and the impact of democratized learning permeates the entire organization. We do this by offering a platform that addresses four key areas:
- Automate mentor-mentee matches plus integration with major HR systems to ensure easy tracking of participant growth and promotions
- Create easy opportunities for everyone in the organization to learn from one another, form cohorts, and build a sense of community
- Encourage participants to share their learnings and discuss their perspectives regularly in group settings and through fireside chats on the platform
- Leverage content from leaders and “power mentors” outside the organization who provide advice and talk candidly about their real-world challenges and solutions
Modern mentorship programs must meet the needs of modern workers, who don’t always have physical proximity to one another. The programs don’t have to be built around cumbersome coursework or only around in-person meetings. They can be just as (if not more) effective by facilitating strong connections virtually around targeted topics and encouraging ongoing discussion.
Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us towards a better world of work?
I didn’t have access to mentors in my life until pretty late in my career, and I’ve often wondered if I missed out on opportunities for growth and advancement because of that. I think the pandemic forced all of us to become more comfortable with communicating virtually and taught us that connection is not necessarily about proximity but rather about the quality of the connection. This is a mindset that’s essential to understanding current work environments. It’s exciting to see how technology is evolving to help HR leaders and other executives create dynamic skills development and people connection programs that employees want to participate in and find valuable.
I’m curious, thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?
Ohhh this is a tough one. We’ve interviewed incredible top leaders from companies like Alphabet, Meta, Wayfair, Clorox, Metlife and so many others. This is like being asked to choose your favorite child! Okay—I’ll give it a try. I think VMWare’s CHRO Betsy Sutter is very innovative and forward-thinking. I’m also really impressed by Blue Shield of California’s CHRO Mary O’Hara along with their VP of Talent Kristin Wood—they’re both very thoughtful and intentional about developing people to enhance employee mobility.
How can our readers follow your work?
The best way would be to follow Global Mentor Network on social media—we have an active community and that’s where we post any news or updates. I’ve also had a lot of fun co-hosting our podcast for HR and talent development professionals over the past few months, Leader’s Playbook, which just wrapped up its first season. We have a new group of exciting guests planned for Season 2 and we encourage all your readers to subscribe so they can be the first to know when new episodes drop. You can also contact us at email@example.com with any questions, comments, or suggestions. And of course, you could give me a follow on Twitter the more the merrier!
Thank you for adding your voice to People Managing People’s interview series on How to Build a Better World of Work!
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