(caption: Alyse Nelson of Vital Voices and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance for Nigeria, participated in a panel on mentoring together)
As we draw towards International Women’s Day—the one day each year that the world celebrates women—each of us has a role to play in improving opportunities for women and girls. And there’s a simple way to go about it. I’ve had the privilege of partnering with thousands of exceptional women leaders for more than 17 years. Through them, I’ve seen the power of mentoring.
Mentoring is a strategy to achieve meaningful change for women and girls.
Mentoring makes space for innovation. It fosters collaboration and creativity and turns problems that, alone, seem intractable into challenges that can be overcome, together. Mentoring is an exchange of knowledge, experiences, and power. It enables a mentee to form clear goals and to set out towards them with the backing of an ally. For the mentor, it creates an opportunity to leverage past learnings to accelerate progress. With the benefits of insight, skills, and connections that mentorship provides, women are better positioned to realize breakthrough change and thrive in positions of leadership.
The best part is the ROI. Mentoring catalyzes future mentorship. 2012 research from Catalyst found that 65 percent of women who have been mentored will go on to become mentors themselves. This is extraordinary, and it’s unique to mentoring among other forms of career development.
I count myself among these women. The people I’ve been lucky enough to call my mentors made time for me; time to listen and time to share. They taught me that a mentor is not someone who takes your hand and guides you along a path. It’s someone ready to stand behind you – win or lose. It’s a partnership. The women who have mentored me have been shareholders in both my victories and my disappointments. They have not been cheerleaders. Because a good mentor celebrates your successes, but a great one also helps you learn from your mistakes. The gifts of wisdom, encouragement, and tough love bestowed on me by these women are priceless. And because I know I can’t pay them back, I choose to pay it forward.
I find myself mentoring in much the same way I was mentored – often thrown into the deep end with a few cheerfully shouted instructions about how to swim. I do that, not because I don’t want to take the time, but because I believe in the young women coming up around me. Much the way others believed in me. I see their potential, their intelligence, and their inherent ability to create results. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a huge expenditure of time. It only requires a conscious investment of self.
Today, communities around the world are commemorating International Women’s Day. It’s not just a day for celebration or reflection. It’s a day on which we must make investments for impact.
Women and girls, near and far, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of global poverty, poor health, illiteracy, and violence. If we want to bring about real progress, we need to take a step back and make space for impact. Right here, where we are today.
Mentorship is a strategy for impact, the tangible kind, the kind that lasts a lifetime. It starts on the individual level, but it’s transitive. It crosses towns and generations. Not only has it been proven to work, it sets in motion a cycle of impact. And if it catches fire, it can have infinite significance.
No leader I know stands back and waits for the ideal moment. They choose to focus on the change they can make each day, from where they stand.
Honor International Women’s Day by committing to have an impact on an individual level. If you’re in need of a mentor, reach out, today. If you have experiences and insight to share with a mentee, reach out, today.
Because there is no more appropriate time than the one day each year dedicated to women for us to invest in one another.