At my first corporate job I was not taken seriously in meetings as the only woman in the room. At the time, there were very few women in leadership and even fewer women of color. Until a woman joined the organization as our new senior leader. She knew how to navigate the corporate ladder, command the meetings and deliver results. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted her to be my mentor, but I was afraid to ask her because she so far outranked me. But one day I saw her in the restroom and in a fleeting moment I gathered up the courage to ask her; and to my surprise she said “yes”. That was the day my mentorship journey began and so did my career growth. In this article, I want to share my experiences and why mentorship is essential for advancing the next generation of women leaders.
I have always believed that mentoring enriches communities and develops strong confident women to lead future generations. Access to a mentor can help women move forward in their career growth, build long-lasting relationships and have a safe place to learn and ask questions. The value of mentorship can be mutually beneficial.
I have had many strong mentors who nurtured my growth during my career while challenging me to realize my true potential. My parents were my first mentors. belonging to a middle-class family in India. My dad, an engineer, and my mom, a teacher, taught me early in life that education opens doors. When I came to America for work, it took lots of time and patience to be accepted as a woman in tech. With my senior leader as my mentor, I was on the right path. It boosted my confidence and opened roads to experiment with career paths, but destiny had a different plan for me.
As I was pursuing my career goals, my daughter became extremely ill, requiring hospitalization, so I quit my job to care for her. The thought of leaving my career behind was terrifying but in that moment, my husband became my mentor and encouraged me to build a technology services business with my work experience. The question was, “How?” I could contribute as an individual in a big company, but running a successful company was a completely new and thrilling venture. I still needed practical training in approaching customers, selling and developing my brand.
Success in my new endeavor again came from engaging with mentors. I joined the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which offers many programs to women entrepreneurs. I met many strong women leaders whom I grew to admire, and I learned from each one of them. I participated in corporate-sponsored mentorship programs and learned from women leaders about their business values, culture, success factors and what they wanted to see in a trusted partner. They taught me the most important rule of success in business – building relationships and trust with customers. I was welcomed with open arms to learn, ask questions, understand this new world and lead with confidence. My business began to flourish, and I began to tailor my services to my customers and their needs. I learned that along the way, each of my mentors acted as building blocks in my entrepreneurial journey and with their guidance, I was building my business into a world-class, recognized and trusted brand.
Now, I serve as a mentor to others. Going through the ropes as a mentee has made me a better mentor. I can empathize with each mentee’s challenges; it teaches me to be agile to understand their perspective as I step into their shoes to solve their problems. It feels rewarding to contribute to the mentees’ success and make a difference in their lives.
So, the question is, how do we define our success? How we contribute to developing stronger women leaders?
Let’s rethink our definition of success. Success is investing in those around us. At work, our employees may need that confident voice to guide them. At home, our daughters may need that extra set of ears to listen. We can mentor in local communities, schools and professional networks. And that’s just the start. We will explore the many ways to mentor in future blog topics, from finding mentees, to helping them achieve their career goals, providing mentor days, apprenticeships and much more.
We believe it takes only ONE mentor to make a difference. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, click here.