Why mentorship matters for womenFebruary 23, 2018 Category: Feature, Featured, Long, Method
DisclosuresCorrection: The percentage of women-owned businesses in Philadelphia has been updated. (2/26, 11:30 a.m.)
It’s 2018, and women still face tremendous odds in the professional world.
There are comparatively fewer female biz owners, too. As of 2016, Philadelphia women owned 18.5 percent of all local businesses, ranking our city the ninth state in the country in that category. And nationwide, only 5 percent of CEO positions are held by women.
What might help reduce the leadership gap? Professional development in the form of mentorship — that is, advice and support from those more professionally knowledgeable. As Forbes put it last year:
“While some debate the merit of mentorship within its traditional parameters, when it’s expanded to include sponsorship and advocacy, it’s proven to be a critical element of success by providing protégés with the opportunity to broaden their perspective, build social capital, navigate organizational politics more strategically, and muster up the confidence to ‘lean in’ and speak up when it matters most.”
Here’s how three social impact leaders in Philadelphia said young women can find a mentor as well as what that professional relationship can look like.
Reach out to those who inspire you
Sometimes, mentoring can be as passive as studying someone’s career trajectory from a distance. LEADERSHIP Philadelphia CEO Elizabeth Dow encourages young women to look out for people who inspire them and watch what they do.
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“I don’t think mentoring always has to be a traditional one-on-one relationship,” Dow said. “When I was coming up in business, there weren’t really many women ahead of me in senior business jobs, so I always watched people I admired and I would emulate their behavior. I was very conscious of who inspired me.”
She also emphasized that these inspiring people don’t necessarily need to be working in the same field or industry as you. For instance, one of the best mentors she ever had is her sculpting teacher.
“Mentors show up in surprising forms,” Dow said.
Find organizational help
A great way to get connected and involved is finding an organization focused on professional development.
Every summer, Philly-based charity Project ALOE (Assisting Ladies by Offering Essentials) hosts a send-off event for girls entering their first semester of college that includes a panel where women are invited to ask for advice about campus life. Questions typically orient toward self-care, personal hygiene and work-life balance.
While the program is focused on that one-time event, the organization’s founder, entrepreneur and technologist Jumoke Dada (who also founded networking group Tech Women Network), said that young women reach out to her during their first years of college beyond the topics covered during the summer. She may not be able to answer every question, but she’s able to point young women in the right direction to other resources.
Turn to your peers
Wells Fargo VP of Community Relations Tiffany Tavarez started mentoring young people while she was still an undergraduate at Temple University. As she was navigating which classes and credits to take to complete her degree, she invited her friends to her dorm room to share the information she learned.
“I used to tell my friends, ‘Hey, if you want to meet in my room at 3 o’clock for an hour, I can tell you what I figured out and share that information,'” she said. “It would be [similar to] caring for a neighbor and her kids after school for an hour or two because she couldn’t get home in time. That’s always been ingrained in me early as a student, as a young lady.”
Additionally, if you find an organization focused on professional development like Project ALOE, that’s another opportunity to form mentee-to-mentee relationships and turn to peers in similar situations as you, especially if they’re attending a different school or working in a different company.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there
Asking a potential mentor for guidance can be a stressful thing to do. First Round Review actually discourages mentees from using the word “mentor” in their initial requests because it can sound like a long-term commitment with someone you might not know all that well. Instead, request an informal meeting over coffee or a brief phone call.
However, the power lies within the ask. Many miss that first step.
“When girls need a mentor, they really have to ask,” Dada said. “If you want someone to be your mentor, ask them.”
Tavarez said when she attended professional networking events and admired women further in their careers from afar, she wanted to become closer with those who inspire. At these events, she found it natural to approach them and ask for a few minutes of their time to pick their brain. However, she understands that approaching those who inspire her can be intimidating for other young women.
“I think there is still a lot fear of rejection, or fear of not being able to [sustain] whatever they think the definition of a mentee is,” Tavarez said. “If a young women is bold enough to care about her past, and start to ask the right questions, then the least I can do is give her time and respect for her willing to do that. Oftentimes, half the battle is having the courage.”
Good mentoring is mutual
Dow stressed that mentoring is always mutual. Young women offer their mentors a different point of view and fresh perspective, such as what it’s like to today find a new job as a recent graduate in Philadelphia.
“In a good mentoring relationship, both people are getting an equal amount of it, because we all have a lot to teach each other,” she said.