Seems mentoring is all the buzz nowadays. Young professionals who are community minded look to pass
their knowledge on to the youth. There are a bagillion and one mentorship and leadership programs for
“at-risk” teens. Entry-level professionals even look for a mentor to guide them up the corporate ladder.
But what about mentoring for women in business? I haven’t seen many programs as such, nor have I
seen too many other women in business I would like to have as a mentor. At least not many who are
readily accessible to me (Oprah doesn’t count. I still love her, but she doesn’t count).
I believe mentoring is essential to encouraging the female leaders of the future; not just teenage girls or
early career professionals, but those of us on the entrepreneurship track as well. Identifying and
overcoming obstacles in business progression at the early stages can have a huge effect on eventual
success. Studies show that historically women have reported a more difficult time finding mentors than
men do. A mentorship mindset should start in academia and be a part of every stage of a woman’s
education and training. When this thought process is cultivated, it leads to grooming the next
generation of mentors who will seek out other young ladies to pass their legacy onto instead of young
women entrepreneurs always tripping over their heels trying to find someone to look up to. If seasoned
entrepreneurs can identify opportunities to encourage women early on then they will be able to fulfill
their potential throughout their business endeavors while strengthening the community of women
entrepreneurs. Some of the most prominent women had great mentors–and they are often now
working as mentors to the next generation themselves.
As wide as the disparity is between men and women in mentoring, add the factor of being a minority
woman and the gap widens even more. It’s exponentially as challenging to find a woman who looks like
me to mentor me. In a recent Catalyst study, 62 percent of diverse women with mentors cited “lack of
an influential mentor or sponsor” as a barrier to advancement, as opposed to 39 percent of white
“For African Americans mentoring is like oxygen; mentorship helps one uncover the opportunities and possibilities
that are beyond the stratosphere,” says Kimberly Reed, human resource consultant and managing partner of The
Reed Development Group.
Equally as important as mentoring in business is having an advocate. Sure, I can have someone I look up
to whom I can model my business practices after and someone to bounce ideas off of, but how can we
take that to the next step? A mentor should also be willing to open doors for their mentee; referring
business, offering invitations to business events and galas, and being an active part of helping that
woman get ahead differentiates a mentor from an advocate. A mentor instructs and coaches you on
from the sidelines; an advocate gets in the game with you to make sure you succeed.
Everyone’s journey is different–and many are not easy. Hard work is the foundation of success, but the
people and attitudes you surround yourself with, and the message you pass on to others, all contribute
to a culture of female achievement that will take us into the future. In addition, women of color must be
open to mentorship relationships. It’s not enough that one or two of us ascend; we must be willing to send the
elevator back down to bring another sister up to the penthouse. An ill that we suffer sorely
from in our community is building healthy interpersonal relationships that are mutually beneficial. This
has to stop in order for us to get to the next level of economic parity. Below are a few links to
organizations that focus on mentoring for women. Check them out and if you know of others, leave their
information in the comments section.