Sonnia Thomas Shields – CUP Fellow Spotlight – Sept 2011

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

I am a Vice President in the Office of Global Leadership and Diversity at Goldman Sachs, where I am the head of Targeted Pipeline Development. My responsibilities include setting the strategic vision and implementation of the firm’s Black, Hispanic, and Multicultural Women talent management initiatives.

I spend the majority of my time focusing on the retention and promotion of diverse professionals and work closely with senior Partners and members of the firm’s Management Committee to drive results, specifically within the Managing Director promotion process. In addition to my internal remit, I am responsible for the Firm’s external-brand for multicultural women, Brokering Change: A Wall Street Multicultural Women’s Exchange.

I have worked at Goldman Sachs for 10 years. I began my career at Goldman in 2001 as an investment banking analyst focused on the healthcare industry. I transferred to the Investment Banking Division (IBD) training team in 2003 and became responsible for the IBD New Banker Training Programs globally, and the New Banker Continuing Education Program for the Americas. In 2006, I relocated to the London office in my training role where I was responsible for the IBD Experienced Hire integration initiative and the first London IBD New Analyst Training Program. In 2007, I was presented with the opportunity to become the head of Diversity Recruiting for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In this role, I was responsible for developing and administering the firm’s diversity strategy and overseeing the development of programs aimed to attract diverse graduate and experienced hire candidates. I relocated back to New York in 2009 for my current role.

My career has taken a lot of different turns, none of which I planned from the outset. I try to keep myself positioned for the right opportunities and never allow myself to be too complacent.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

The most challenging aspects of my current job are getting people to think out of the box and generating buy-in from all of my key stakeholders on new initiatives. I work in an industry that is constantly moving and changing, so getting people to have a long term view can be challenging. To be successful in my role, I have to have the right level of support, so managing relationships and having the right conversations behind the scenes is critical.

What is your proudest achievement?

One of my proudest achievements both personally and professionally has been making the decision to take a job opportunity in London within Goldman. When I was first presented with the opportunity, I was very hesitant and nervous. I knew I would have to work hard to establish myself in the London office and also work overtime to build a personal and professional network. Moving to London ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made and contributed to some of the best years of my life. Life overseas was personally very rewarding and exciting. On the professional front, I was able to switch jobs again within Goldman, which opened up the door to what I am doing now. The experience taught me to consider all opportunities and take risks no matter how out of the box they may seem. Things tend to work themselves out in the end.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

I most admire leaders who are able to motivate, inspire and bring people up through the ranks. The leaders I have come to respect are confident enough to pass the baton and teach others so they can move onto the next great thing. They are strategic thinkers that do not settle for less than what they can have. They are also savvy relationship managers, because they understand that they cannot accomplish their goals by themselves.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

If the next ten years are anything like the last, I will be just as surprised as anyone to see where I end up. I mentioned that I focus on always positioning myself for the right opportunities and taking calculated risks when necessary. I plan to be focused on personal business ventures and would also like to be in a position where I am driving the strategy of an organization and being an agent of change. I enjoy problem solving and developing and executing strategies to accomplish goals, so I am sure I will be in a position that will allow me to play to my strengths, whether it is in the private or public sector.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?

Think big and never limit yourself. Do not let others put you into a box. Take on the stretch assignments and never underestimate the power of your network. The right professional relationships can take you a long way so make an effort to build your personal board of directors within your firm and outside of your firm. Do not forget to do some self-promoting in the process; people will never care about your career as much as you do. Never lose sight of your personal life. Jobs can come and go, but true friends and family will always be there. Remember to manage these relationships as this will be your support system regardless of where you end up. Also, find time to engage in hobbies, organizations, etc., that matter to you the most. You have to focus on high performance on your jobs so work on finding the right balance. Believe that you can have an impact and you will.