Campus & community, Work life

On My Mind: HR head Jo Mackness on the importance of mentors -- and where to find them

a woman stands with a man and Oski character
Jo Mackness, right, UC Berkeley’s interim assistant vice chancellor for human resources, writes about what her mentors have meant to her. (Photo courtesy of Jo Mackness)
a woman stands with a man and Oski character

Jo Mackness, right, UC Berkeley’s interim assistant vice chancellor for human resources, writes about what her mentors have meant to her. (Photo courtesy of Jo Mackness)

My youngest son’s fourth grade teacher has introduced her class, and thus our family, to gratitude writing.

While I naturally lean toward being grateful for the many privileges that have been afforded me, I don’t often write them down. So, when I was asked to take a moment to jot down what’s “on my mind,” it felt natural to write about one of the things I’m most grateful for: my role at UC Berkeley and the people who helped get me here.

I relish coming to work each day and helping people get what they want out of their jobs and careers and to let people know they matter. I think all employees on campus should feel their voices are heard and know that they have career options and the support to get there. (If you do one thing before going to read something else, visit ).

What’s mattered? Feedback and connections

What’s been most valuable in my career journey came from feedback and connections with colleagues who took an interest in my personal and professional development.

‘On My Mind’

‘On My Mind’ is a space for senior campus leaders to communicate with the Berkeley community. Read more here.

My first mentor was at UCLA, where professor Vickie Mays allowed me, then an inexperienced undergraduate, to research, write and learn alongside her. Beyond statistical analysis and survey instrument creation, she taught me to give credit where credit is due. She named me on a research paper I contributed to and, most importantly, she made me feel like my contribution mattered. My first (and only) published research paper, “ African American families in diversity: Gay men and lesbians as participants in family networks ,” still lives online.

After I graduated from UCLA, I went to work for Sibson, a human resources consulting firm . It was there that I met my second career mentor, Roger Brossy, then the managing director of the firm.

a woman in a grad cap stands with another woman

Mackness, left, stands with mentor Vickie Mays who taught her to give credit where credit is due. (Photo courtesy of Jo Mackness)

Roger not only worked hard to ensure we practiced what we preached when it came to compensation, performance management and other human resource components, but that we also understood the importance of nurturing a strong and positive culture.

He was the person who told me, at age 21, that “when you walk into a room, you fill it.” He was telling me that when I was having a good day, people knew it—and when I was having a bad day, people also knew it.

It was my first realization that I had influence beyond my awareness, that how I show up matters because it influences others, and I’ve been mindful of this ever since. Showing up in a positive, collaborative, inclusive and authentic way is important to me and something that we in Central Human Resources support through training and the performance management process.

three women in running gear stand on sproul plaza

Mackness, right, said professor Kellie McElhaney, middle, has helped her “put herself out there.” (Photo courtesy of Jo Mackness)

My third mentor was another super-smart, strong female professor, Kellie McElhaney , here at Berkeley. Not only did Kellie ignite my passion for responsible business and sustainability, she also taught me not to be afraid to apply for a role I didn’t feel qualified for—or to—create a job for myself that didn’t yet exist. I’ve done both at Kellie’s urging.

Even when I did apply for a job I subsequently wasn’t offered, I’d signaled to the organization that I was looking for a new challenge, and I learned a lot through the process. Check out this article from Harvard Business Review that digs deeper into why women don’t apply for jobs unless they believe they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men apply when they think they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications. (Hint: It’s not for the reasons you might think!)

Mentors, meet sponsors

My fourth mentor turned out to be a sponsor, which is a mentor who puts his or her own personal capital on the line for you. Dean Rich Lyons was my boss at Berkeley Haas, where I was the chief administrative officer. When I mentioned to him that I’d been approached by campus leadership to lead Central HR on an interim basis, he quickly swallowed his own self-interest, called the administrator who wanted to hire me, and gave me a glowing recommendation. If you want to read more, Rich wrote about his experience being my sponsor in this Forbes article when the #MeToo movement was just beginning.

My most recent mentor was a management coach— Kate Blake of 6X Project —who I’ve been working with for the past six months. Kate has led me to discover a lot about myself and most importantly, to go easy on myself.

Rather than being my hardest critic in a challenging situation, if I find myself slipping (as I think many of us do) into a self-doubt loop that can fuel imposter syndrome and anxiety, I’m learning to get curious and question why. I begin by asking myself what might be fueling that self-doubting sensation (for me it could be anything from lack of food/sleep to a belief I don’t deserve to be in the room with such a smart and accomplished group of staff and faculty).

a woman holding a cal sign

There are plenty of ways for Berkeley staff to find mentors on campus, Mackness says. (Photo courtesy of Jo Mackness)

After getting curious and naming the real driver, it’s easier to move to solutions. For me that might be recalling the unique (and thus valuable) perspective, experience or ideas that I bring to my job or simply taking a break to go grab some food!

I have a lot to be grateful for, in terms of the advice, insights and support I’ve received from mentors and sponsors throughout my career journey. I, too, have served as a sponsor and mentor over my 10-plus years on campus. I’ve learned as much from those relationships—especially the candid feedback some of you have given me—as I have from the five relationships I mentioned above.

I encourage all of you to explore the mentorship program offered by Berkeley Staff Assembly or simply to reach out to someone on campus who you’d like to get to know better over a quick morning coffee or afternoon tea. These informal chats always refuel my love of Berkeley and, at least twice, have helped me find a new opportunity at work. I do hope you can find the same.