Q&A: Heide Gardner


The Plank Center is committed to developing the next generation of leaders and advancing the profession. It is our honor to recognize six leaders whose commitment to mentoring generates a powerhouse of influence and accelerates success in our profession.

Our question and answer series introduces the Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.  HeideGardner

Meet Heide Gardner.
Heide Gardner is Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG), one of the world’s leading organizations of advertising agencies and marketing services companies. The first African American and person of color to serve as an officer of Interpublic Group, she is responsible for collaborating with senior management to develop global inclusion strategies and resources for IPG and its family of leading agency brands.

Heide is this year’s recipient of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’ “Milestones in Mentoring” Executive Honoree. This award honors executives who exemplify the concept of mentorship. Heide shares her thoughts on the award, mentorship and offers advice to new mentors and mentees.

What does it mean to you to be honored with the “Milestones in Mentoring” Award?

I was floored when I received the call. It is such an honor to know that my contributions are valued by the industry. It’s also meaningful because mentoring is so important.

When did you first realize you were a mentor and a leader?

I think I first realized I was a mentor and a leader when I built the American Advertising Federation’s diversity office and launched AAF’s Most Promising Minority Students. Suddenly I was uniting leaders from various industry sectors to support diversity and our student honorees were looking up to me.

Describe your role as a mentor.

A mentor’s role is to provide guidance and support based on the needs of the mentee and insights from life’s experiences.

What is your biggest mentoring challenge?

My biggest mentoring challenge is that I feel mentoring should be proactive not necessarily reactive to a specific request. Time becomes a challenge.

What advice would you share with new mentors?

The advice I have for new mentors is to establish mutual expectations and define mentee needs early on. The other advice is to allow yourself to learn from and benefit from your mentee. The relationship should be mutually beneficial.

What is your advice for mentees (young professionals, students, etc.)?

First, seek out mentoring relationships and don’t worry about what they are called. Mentoring with a “capital M” can seem daunting to some busy executives, but they are perfectly happy to provide guidance or advice from time to time. Also, deliver value to your mentor: Share articles you think would interest them; introduce them to people you think they should know; tell them about something you learned; treat them as a partner and not just a source of help. Have more than one mentor – you need a “board of directors.”

What inspires or motivates you to be a mentor?

I think mentoring is part of being a leader and important to organizational and societal progress. It’s also part of giving back.

What advice did you receive from your own mentor that you will always pass along to others and why?

One of my mentors once told me that everyone needs and wants to feel important and that I should treat others that way.

Published: September 3, 2015

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