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Female Business Leaders Benefit from Mentors’ Support

Apr 30, 2016 12:05PM ● Published by Hilary Daninhirsch

What does it take for a woman to become a successful business leader? Certainly getting a formal education, becoming active in the community, accruing work experience and essentially, viewing the world as your classroom goes a long way toward accomplishing those goals.

But perhaps one of the most valuable assets a businesswoman can have is a mentor.

A mentor is a trusted guide or advisor that can help model by example as well as navigate their mentees through the process of rising in the ranks of business. The mentoring process can begin at any age—and perhaps the earlier, the better.

“Mentoring is what Girl Scouting is all about on so many levels—Girl Scouting is really progressive learning,” said Nancy Irwin, director, Marketing and Communications, Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania. She noted that not only do troop leaders become mentors to their scouts, but older Girl Scouts have an opportunity to mentor younger ones.

Recognizing that the future job market in this country will focus more and more on careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the Girl Scouts incorporate many STEM activities and relevant badge opportunities into their programs so that girls can gain this invaluable experience.

Something as seemingly basic as selling Girl Scout cookies lays the foundation for many a future businesswoman. “Seventy percent of female business leaders cite the Girl Scout cookie program as their first taste of running their own business,” said Irwin. “This is an opportunity for girls to interact with adults in a completely different way. They have to know their product, market their product, and pull in math skills. All of those pieces coming together are the backbone of what the cookie program provides and what you need in any business.”

Via the Gold Program, Girl Scouts must determine a need in the community, come up with a solution for that need and design a project—but they have to actively seek out a mentor to advise them along the way.

While men can certainly benefit from having a mentor as well, for women about to enter the work force or who are trying to climb the corporate ladder, it is especially advantageous to find a mentor.  

“I think women need more of a reaffirmation of their value and their worth. Women have a tendency to diminish themselves to make everyone else feel comfortable,” said Brenda DeCroo, a business coach and owner of Brenda DeCroo Coaching, who helps women find their natural gifts and build upon their own strengths.

So what is the role of a mentor?  

“To guide and lead the thinking process and help the mentee develop the ability to create a vision—where they want to go and how to do that,” said Wendy Lydon, LPBC, MBC, senior vice president of ThistleSea Business Development. “Typically in such a relationship, there is an ingredient of wisdom, whether that is from experience or education or knowledge—but the role of the mentor is to share that wisdom, and this may be in many different formats.” 

Lydon explained that communicating with a mentor is essential, as it is a building block for developing listening and communications skills with others.  “Helping them build their vision; understanding their WHY—why are they doing what they do, why are they fulfilling their passion?” said Lydon of a mentor’s role. “Understanding what tape is playing in their heads—do they have fears that they need to work through? Are they really holding themselves accountable to reach the goals they set?”

Mentoring opportunities exist for women in many sectors of business. Chances are, if you are a woman in business, there is someone that you look up to as a role model.  But you don’t necessarily have to be mentored by a professional in your chosen field to benefit from such a relationship. Simply finding someone whom you respect and who has inspired you in some way is a good foundation.

Mentoring can be done formally or informally. It can involve regular meetings, in person or on the phone, and basically requires getting to know how the other person works and how they relate to other people, said DeCroo.

“Informal mentoring is very valuable. There is much value in having that internal mentor within your industry
or business, and there is great value, too, in having an external mentor,”
said Lydon.  

Just as mentoring can begin in girlhood, no one ever ages out of benefiting from having a mentor. “Throughout our careers, we always need to have mentors because there are always opportunities to grow in different ways and to develop our skills and perspective on life,” said DeCroo.

Lydon agrees. “It is never too early and it is never too late. We seek out or need different mentors at different times and at different stages in our life. Tomorrow, your needs may change,” she said.

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