Mentoring for Women Entrepreneurs
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 for women entrepreneurs 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 women. Kimberly Reed, human resource consultant and managing partner of The Reed Development Group says:
“For African Americans mentoring is like oxygen; mentorship helps one uncover the opportunities and possibilities that are beyond the stratosphere”
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? An advocate relationship is slightly more involved. Having someone who is willing to open doors for their protege; referring business, offering invitations to business events and galas for networking opportunities, 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 entrepreneurs. Check them out and if you know of others, leave their information in the comments section.