Mentorship: Ladies, Let's Pay It Forward

The world has transitioned from the mantra "ask and you shall receive" to a much more effective model of "give and you shall receive." -- Brendon Burchard

We just celebrated the International Day of the Girl, which is a wonderful initiative to recognize girls' rights and value the contributions of young women everywhere. The goal is to ensure more girls world-wide receive the education and support they need to fulfill their potential. In the U.S., we've been fortunate to see the number of women with a higher education increasing. The Census Bureau has reported that among those employed, between 25 years old and older, 37 percent of women had attained a bachelor's degree or more as of 2010, compared with 35 percent of men. While we're making progress with educational attainment in this country, we still have work ahead of us to ensure that women receive the support they need to fulfill their potential once they enter the corporate world.

In what aspect you might ask. I recently attended a workshop led by an author who had written a book geared toward leading women to reinvent themselves and dare to build a life that results in happiness in both their personal and career lives. During the Q&A, one attendee asked the author if she had any female mentors who had influenced her and to share her experiences. The author responded that she really didn't have any specific female mentors, but had drawn from books by female authors to help her in her own journey. There was a lot of head nodding in the audience. I thought about my own experiences and could relate. Over the past 10 years, I've had mostly male mentors to guide me along on my own career journey and have read lots and lots of books. However, it hadn't always been this way.

At my first employer after college, I had four wonderful women who mentored and sponsored me -- Carolyn, Lois, Susan and Barb. They all supported, guided, challenged, advised and championed me in different ways. I excelled and quickly moved up the ranks during my time with this employer. However, I eventually left to move on to bigger and better things to then learn that I had been really spoiled. The wonderful female mentoring I had been able to enjoy virtually didn't exist once I entered the very male-dominated industries of technology and transportation. There weren't necessarily too many women at the higher levels and those who had moved up had their own issues to tackle. I believe I would have fallen into the same mode if I hadn't experienced great female mentorship myself early on in my career. I have continued to seek out mentors, albeit mostly male, and have also made it my mission to try to give back to others in the workplace, to both female and male up-and-comers.

This is what I learned from my wonderful early female mentors and have attempted to emulate myself:

  1. If you see potential in someone, seek them out. Find out more about what her dreams and aspirations are and see how you can help. I know that early on in my career I wouldn't have had the courage to seek out a mentor or really known what the value was. They just didn't teach you the value of mentorship in college. Therefore, you might be the one who has to make the first move.
  2. Challenge her to continually stretch herself. Encourage her to make career jumps, get another degree, attend training programs or learn new skills. My mentors pushed me to go for my MBA, take on new areas of responsibility, read certain books and attend training courses to build my own management/leadership style. Remember that you'll oftentimes see possibilities within someone that they just can't see through their own eyes.
  3. Hold their vision for them, but make them own it. Your role as a mentor isn't just to make everything happen for the mentee. You guide her as she takes the action steps. You also stand with her when frustrations and excuses might derail her. You cheerlead her on while also holding her accountable. You teach her how to make her own dreams happen.

I'd love to challenge you to look around you and see what young woman in your workplace you could lend your support to. As women, we shouldn't have to let other women just rely on books to receive support and guidance as they move forward on their career path. It is time for us women to pay it forward in the corporate world as mentors. It truly is in giving that we receive.