As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, we should take time to remember that mentoring and being mentored are keys to success for many women in business. It often takes a village comprised of outstretched and interlocking hands.
“There is nothing like a great mentor—someone who can guide you and provide honest, real-time, practical advice,” says Jackie Stone, CMO of MiMedia. “Mentors don't judge your thoughts, ideas or dreams—they help you achieve them. My mentors have guided me to new opportunities and pushed me to take risks.”
Sherron Washington, CEO of marketing and communications firm P3 Solution, agrees. “It is an invaluable investment to mentor and support other women in their businesses and networks. Historically, when women band together we are powerful, inspiring and resourceful, achieving extraordinary feats that have changed the course of history. It’s vital for our success to advise, collaborate and promote other women to help develop the current, as well as the next generation of, women powerhouses.”
For any woman who wants to build a successful business or advance in her career, having mentors and advocates who support your growth is important, adds Becky Davis, a small-business expert, consultant and speaker. “You can be successful without a mentor, but it’s harder and can take longer,” she says. “Creating a strong network of women who support you is critical. You shouldn’t feel like you are the first person to go to Mars without other women to direct, guide and inspire you along the way.”
Mentoring can be life changing, believes Amber Alvarez, executive design director of Fuze Interactive, a company that teaches kids how to code. “I was frustrated in my role at a sprawling company. I felt I had good ideas, but no one to listen to them,” Alvarez recalls. She met a woman in the company she admired in the elevator and met up with her for coffee. This meeting resulted in her landing her dream job.
“During the time I worked there, she coached me to greatness,” says Alvarez. “I never imagined anyone capable of such kindness. She reached down the ladder to help me up and changed my life.”
—Jackie Stone, CMO, MiMedia
Kristy Muir Sevy, Fuze Interactive's CEO and founder, has a similar story. “A managing partner at a big VC firm offered to help me craft my pitch, and people were amazed I got a meeting with her,” says Sevy. “She brought another woman, a CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. They mentored me for more than an hour. This was a huge lesson that successful women genuinely want to champion other women, and that I should never be afraid to simply ask for advice. ”
Claire Roberts, CEO of Lice Clinics of America, echoes Sevy’s sentiments. “I would not be a CEO today without mentors. In every case, mentors have also been my toughest critics–they pushed me, challenged me and demanded the best.”
Mentoring can be just as rewarding as being mentored, adds speaker and CEO Shama Hyder. “I’ve enjoyed mentoring young female entrepreneurs, and I've always felt like I learn just as much as I teach,” she says as Women's Equality Day approaches.
The Benefits of Being a Mentor
It can be important for women to mentor and support each other in their businesses and networks beyond Women's Equality Day.
Vickie Brett of the Inclusive Education Project and special education law firm Selogie & Brett sees myriad benefits to mentoring and being a mentee. “Mentors are able to share their knowledge and experience with mentees in order to help them avoid the mistakes they may have made in the past, while mentees are able to listen and learn.”
“For the mentor," says Marsha Friedman, CEO and founder of EMSI Public Relations, "I believe there is no greater gift than to be able to help others. For the mentee, it’s priceless having a mentor who understands all the facets of your life and has gone through what you are going through.”
Lauren Davenport, founder and CEO of Symphoni Media, agrees. “As a mentor, you have the privilege of helping shape the next generation of leaders by sharing your experiences, advice, successes and network. Often unexpectedly, the relationship also benefits the mentor as the mentee provides a fresh perspective.”
Aurea McGarry is a TV show host, producer, director and author. She also runs Live Your Legacy Summit, a women entrepreneur support event in Atlanta that's in its tenth year. “I would not be the successful entrepreneur that I am today without a village of women,” she says. “Women have touched my life and taught me so much. I now happily pay that forward.”
What to Do if You Want to Mentor or Be Mentored
If you're inspired by these testimonies or the call for action Women's Equality Day inspires, consider these tips on how to become a mentor or mentee.
- Be vocal: “Don’t be afraid to speak as a woman and acknowledge the challenge of balancing a busy work-family balance,” says Jordan Gaspar, co-founder and managing partner of food and beverage investor AccelFoods. “Be an example of someone who is trying to conquer the challenge and isn’t afraid to admit it is hard along the way.”
- Be a sounding board. Listen to issues, concerns and ask the tough questions, says Davis. “Support doesn't mean being a yes person; it means being an honest person with honest feedback.”
- Make it easy. “When you want someone's help, make it easy for them to help you,” says Hyder. “Good mentors are often busy. If they can't make time for coffee, offer to bring their favorite drink to their office so you can have a few moments of their time.”
- Show your value. “The mentor-mentee relationship is not necessarily one of just taking,” says Hyder. “Make it easy for them to mentor you. Ask clear questions.”
- Ask. “Most successful women in business are incredibly busy,” says Sevy. “I've found a direct approach to be most successful, so ask about advice and mentorship. Before asking, always know what you want from a mentor; otherwise it will be a waste of time for both parties.”
- Know where to look. “Find mentors in a wide variety of places," says Nicole Smartt, vice president of Star Staffing. “Seek out mentors at business and women’s associations in your area, nonprofit organizations, within your family, church groups, and even community groups, such as chambers of commerce. Ask questions, listen carefully and discover passion for what you’re doing.”
For more of the best insights from mentors at the Boomtown accelerator program, access our exclusive video series: Mentor Insights – On Your Schedule.
Read more articles on leadership.