3 Tips for Building Your Professional Support Village

On International Women’s Day, Funmi Olowo, Senior Director of Azure Cloud Engineering at Microsoft, inspired women at SMU Lyle and shared advice on building a foundation for success

3 Tips for Building Your Professional Support Village
Funmi Olowo, Senior Director of Azure Cloud Engineering at Microsoft, shared advice on building a foundation for success at SMU Lyle.

It takes a village to raise a successful leader.

That’s the key message students took away from speaker Funmi Olowo, Senior Director of Azure Cloud Engineering at Microsoft, this International Women’s Day. At an event hosted in partnership with Lyle’s Assistant Dean of Student Success and Inclusive Excellence, Olowo inspired and empowered women to be more proactive in how they think about their careers.

"Everyone needs a village to succeed,” Olowo said. “You have to be intentional about how you are building this village and take conscious action. If you leave it to chance, you might not be pleased with the results."

Here are three tips Olowo shared with women at SMU Lyle on how to cultivate a foundation for becoming a successful leader:

Amplify your hard work by building your village

“Your work will speak for itself to a certain extent,” Olowo said. “While building a village is not a substitute for doing the work, it can help accelerate your career.”

Creating a village of sponsors, mentors, coaches and cheerleaders – each with a different role of support – helps amplify your hard work. For example, sponsors might act as your brand manager to advocate for you and plug you into their network, while mentors can provide guidance and advice for your job role.

Village members might be on your team at work, within your company, or in your broader network. To build those relationships outside of your workplace, Olowo recommends getting involved in groups like the National Society of Black Engineers or other professional organizations.

Create a safe space for receiving feedback

“Giving feedback is always a risk, because you don’t know how the other person will react,” Olowo said. “The way you respond to feedback will determine whether someone gives you more. It’s better not to respond immediately – ask for examples, thank them, and give yourself time to think about it or you may come across as defensive.”

How the feedback is delivered can also impact your reaction. As you mature as a leader, it becomes easier to separate the delivery from the essence of what is shared.

Get guidance from mentors with experience

When Olowo was pregnant with her first child, she was worried about how to balance motherhood with having a successful career. She sought out a company leader with three children who could offer advice and perspective.

“I’m used to working 12-hour days, so I was worried about how I could have a career and be a mom,” said Olowo, now a mom of three. “I wondered if I would need to choose. What would happen if I still wanted to climb that figurative ladder? My mentor gave me the tools to navigate it – everything from preparing for exiting and re-entering work strategically to equipping my manager to advocate for me. She helped me through it.”

Olowo concluded by challenging the group to evaluate who is in their current village and determine whether they need to work on balancing their sponsors, mentors, coaches, and cheerleaders in their support system.

“Be particular about building your village,” she said. “You never know when you are going to need those relationships.”

About the Bobby Lyle School of Engineering
SMU's Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.

About SMU
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.