Keep Upskilling Yourself: Advice from Ford Exec + HBCU Alumni Sondra Sutton Phung

Ford is committed to supporting HBCUs and developing diverse talent within the company. We had the opportunity to speak with the General Marketing Manager for Electric Vehicles and Clark Atlanta University graduate, Sondra Sutton Phung, highlighting her experience at an HBCU and how it has affected her life and career.

 

Q:                    How has attending an HBCU impacted your career and life?

Sondra:            The Clark Atlanta motto: I’ll Find a Way or Make One, has been a powerful statement for me throughout my career. The last 25 years at Ford, there have been career highs and challenging times. However, everytime I faced a challenge, I always leaned into this belief that there was a way forward, and I just had to find it. That statement is probably a testament to why I am still here. I think there’s so much that this global iconic 119-year-old company has to offer, and I’d like to be one of the leaders who advocates for people of color to be an integral part of Ford’s success.

 

Q:                    Are you still connected to Clark? 

Sondra:            I’m very connected to Clark. For the first 23 years of my career, I was there recruiting for internships and full-time job opportunities. I have developed strong relationships with the Office of Institutional Advancement and the Office of the President. So, I have continued to advocate for opportunities at Clark Atlanta and other HBCUs. Most recently, we had a list of HBCUs added to our Ford Salary Tuition Assistance (STAP) program. We never had an HBCU as one of the colleges/universities you could choose from, and now we have several HBCUs on that list, including Clark Atlanta University. I also co-founded the Dr. Melvin Webb Endowment at Clark Atlanta University to support students majoring in STEM fields.

 

Q:                    How do you feel that HBCUs are preparing the next generation of black leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to go after the things they want in life?

Sondra:            HBCUs have a long tradition of developing strong, capable leaders in all areas. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee, and Kamala Harris, they all attended HBCUs. I’m proud to have attended and been nurtured by an HBCU, I also recognize the disparity in funding versus predominately white colleges and universities. HBCUs, as institutions, have always had to do more with less and that philosophy has pushed its students to do the same. Like, creating your own opportunity, you can do it no matter what others say. You are great, and you are gifted. As a young girl from rural Georgia, those words meant so much to me.

 

Today, there are impactful collaborations between HBCUs and tech companies. For example, the Ford Atlanta Research and Innovation Center (FARIC), which is a research and development facility that leverages relationships with regional HBCUs and The Atlanta University Center Consortium to attract and develop high-tech, high-demand talent and increase Black, Hispanic, and female representation in the field. At Ford, we contribute through initiatives like the Ford First Gen program at Spelman. That is one that I am a big fan of, as it incorporates mentorship, monthly learning sessions and experiences, internships, and funding to support first-generation students.

 

Q:                    What are some golden tips which have helped you create great work in your career?

Sondra:            Great question. First, when you enter a company, join an employee resource group. I would also recommend everyone get a mentor, someone who assists them in terms of understanding what choices they need to make in their career. As you progress in your career and start doing great work and delivering results, you soon want to find an advocate because they will break down the barriers that inevitably exist in large corporations – advocates are essential to career advancement.

 

Keep upskilling yourself and don’t wait for or expect a company to provide you with every skill needed for advancement. If you need to take a class with your money, do it. Last but not least, to women, I encourage every woman to step into their power; we tend to hesitate when asking for what we deserve, further contributing to the wage gap with men. You must step into your power, ask for what you want, and never be afraid to try a different path to reach your goal.

 

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