Mentorship (and Womentorship)
I had the privilege of seeing something truly amazing and awe-inspiring last week.
A woman who had spent 20 years in jail (on a domestic violence conviction) stood in front of a room full of “suits” and presented her business plan for Just Soul Catering. She is part of the Defy EIT program and is being mentored by a corporate business analyst, who had her entire staff there to cheer on Sharon Richardson. We provided helpful honest feedback on Sharon’s pitch, to prepare her for the next round of competition and funding.
Even women who have had the benefits of education and relevant work experience need to be mentored. Only about 2% of women business owners ever hit the $1 million revenue mark. I know several women in the “2% club” and I hang on every word they say.
Lack of funding is just one reason women-owned businesses have difficulty scaling. I also believe women still need training and information resources and other women (and men) to help them up the entrepreneurial ladder. And, of course, they can learn to listen to the advice they get from other women who have “made it.”
Women struggle with navigating the corporate world as well. A recent report outed the eight major companies that have no women on their boards. Pretty shocking, right?
When I was working in financial services, a woman supervisor told me point-blank, “I don’t want you to come to the [senior management] meeting. It took me five years to finally get invited. Why should I make it so easy for you?” Although I appreciated her candor, I was dumbfounded that a woman who had risen in the ranks had built her own glass ceiling for the women around her.
Women sometimes call me to ask for advice about building their businesses. I share stories of my successes, but (even more important) my failures and whopping screw-ups. Some listen and thank me. Others choose to dispute or ignore my advice. That’s fine. Every woman has to learn her own business lessons in. But if we are going to ask other women to help us, we need to be willing to open our ears to “tough love” at times. (Sharon stood strong as a table of professionals critiqued her presentation and later thanked each of us for our insights.)
Millennial women are a mixed bag. Some of them appreciate the years of experience that Boomer women can offer. My former high school intern sought me out a couple of months ago. She graduated college and started her career. She knows I’m always available to her if she has questions about life and business. A few other young women fall into that category. I’ve known them for a decade now — and watched them progress from high school to college to grad school to awesome careers. Although I was tough on them at times, I know that they learned a thing or two along the way.
Other young women view us Boomers as a gang of old crones, like nagging moms who don’t know how to code or Snapchat. What value could we possibly have? We women who have lived a while know that business success isn’t measured by your latest round of funding or the coolness of your app. It’s your ability to scale, survive and remain relevant.
Perhaps you’re a woman who doesn’t want to build a million dollar (or more) enterprise. I don’t ever judge. You’ve just opted to stay small and profitable (which can be a challenge in itself) and live a life that affords you balance. Learning how to do that we’ll often requires the insights other women can provide. You don’t have to be big…just smart.
Women have begun helping other women but that trend needs to accelerate if we are to achieve economic independence, credibility, and equality. More women are starting businesses than ever before in history. Although competition is a fact of business life, we certainly can all clear a couple of hours in our busy lives to help a peer, an intern, or a total stranger up the next rung of the career ladder, rather than kicking it out of the way.
We may not all know how to code, but let’s create a new “Woman Code” of Mentorship.
Here are some great “women helping women” resources.
- How to be a great mentor to other women.
- Julie Pimsleur, her book, blog, and workshops. (I had interviewed her for an article about million dollar women-owned businesses a few years back and apparently inspired her to start this venture.)
- The women of Shark Tank. Yes…I know it’s reality TV and not reality. But we can all learn a thing or two from the women judges (who built their own multi-million dollar businesses) as well as from the women who pitch. (But Lori…do you REALLY have to wear those skin-tight peek-a-boo dresses?)
- Break these habits.
- A whole section of the Huffington Post is devoted to women and mentorship.
- Of course, my own books — one targeted at women just starting their careers and the other about how to treat other women in the workplace.
- Here’s how you can help all of us…please add your comments and resources to this blog post. Contribute a business lesson you’ve learned, a resource for advice or funding, or just your own perspective. (And guys…I welcome your comments too…just please avoid women-bashing, which seems to happen every time I take a public stand on inequality. We’re not talking feelings here…we’re talking facts!)
We’re in this together!