Mentors play a vital role in supporting and advancing women in today’s workplace, where gender bias persists in many areas including pay and career growth opportunities. In honor of International Women’s Day, a group of women leaders at WTW shared their perspectives and insights on the mentors who made a difference in their careers and helped them realize their full potential.
It’s time move beyond the idea of mentorships as one-way initiatives. Such relationships can be truly transformational as Managing Director Rekha Misra explains: “By a transformational relationship, I mean one that offered something powerful to both my mentor and me and required an equal amount of work from both of us. With my mentor of 14 years, I have been able to build a relaxed, inspiring camaraderie, driven by curiosity as opposed to the binary instructor-student exchange.”
Organizations recognize that they have a lot to gain from these types of partnerships. In today’s work environments, innovative problem solving and new ideas often flow from the bottom up and that likely includes mentees. Therefore, a mentorship has the potential to accelerate the flow of ideas and transfer of new knowledge to the benefit of the mentor and the organization.
WTW colleagues highlighted the many ways mentors made a difference and helped advance their careers.
Mentors can be instrumental in encouraging employees to be open to opportunities in new areas and follow a bolder path.
Rekha Misra’s mentor, who spent a lifetime in social philanthropy, pushed Rekha to reach out to new connections and be receptive to learning and collaborating with others. “This has helped me advocate for organization-wide diversity and have an impact on employee development,” says Rekha.
Similarly, Healthcare Industry Leader for North America, Maryann McGivney had in her first insurance-industry job a mentor who gave her the opportunity to broaden her experience.
This mentor was hiring a new underwriter and asked Maryann to be the point person in the hiring process. “I had never hired anyone before and had no idea what I was doing,” Maryann says. “My mentor never gave me a hard time or lost patience. He often shared pearls of wisdom on how to do something better or how to improve results, but always with a thorough explanation and lots of encouragement.”
Maryann says she isn’t sure she would have continued her career in the insurance industry without that support and guidance.
It often takes a mentor to recognize an employee’s full potential.
This was the case for Senior Director Nichelle Daulby who never expected to reach the next level in her career. Even after an opportunity for advancement arose, she remained hesitant to apply. Nichelle recalls, “I felt like it was a pointless gesture to go through the process, and I begrudgingly drafted my summary for consideration and asked my mentor to review it. The personal growth that came from reading her revised draft was priceless. I felt like I was reading about someone else even though I recognized all the events as my own.” As a result, Nichelle realized there was no limit to her career potential.
Managing Director Gretchen Broderson’s mentor helped her tap her true potential. “My mentor saw potential in me that I didn’t yet see,” she says. “She took a chance…and showed me that skills are transferable, careers are non-linear, and investing in people is one of the smartest investments you can make.” In difficult situations, Gretchen still applies lessons learned from this mentor today.
As mentors come to appreciate the skills and talents of employees, they often move beyond providing guidance and advice to becoming advocates for giving their mentees new opportunities.
This can happen regardless of whether the mentee is present, as Director Karen Gordyan discovered when she returned from maternity leave a few years ago. Karen comments, “I fully expected there would be no new career opportunities for me while I was out of sight, out of mind. But I was proven wrong. In my first week back, it came as a delightful surprise to be offered the opportunity to be a people manager for three new colleagues.”
From this experience Karen learned the value of a having mentor who recognized her talents and advocated on her behalf. “The important thing is that you have someone who listens, believes in your potential and raises your hand on your behalf, even when you aren’t there to raise it for yourself.”
In many instances, advocating involves helping the mentee make connections to raise their visibility within the organization, which in turn can open doors to new growth possibilities. Managing Director Kim Maitlin describes how her mentor advocated and opened doors for her. “My mentor made connections for me to expand my exposure within the organization. Those connections led to more opportunities to shape my career.”
“Got a minute?” Managing Director Maureen Tarantello’s mentor would ask her this question several times a week. She recalls, “Usually I didn’t feel like I had a minute. My mentor was busy too but made time for me. This mentor modeled the behavior that I needed to learn about spending time together to invest in our futures.”
Learning this valuable lesson and making time for her mentorship paid off for Maureen. She adds, “Sometimes my mentor listened or provided advice, other times gave me feedback or told me things I needed to know even when I didn’t want to hear them. Eventually that mentor advocated for me.”
A key lesson that Corporate Risk & Broking Lead Melissa Dunn learned from her mentor was the value of stepping back to understand a given situation and different perspectives before taking action. Melissa explains, “When taking on a new role, leading a new team, starting a new project…my dear friend shared with me the importance of seeing who is in the room, understanding why they are there, listening to their point of view and understanding their motives. In time, provide your point of view. Make it relevant, make it valuable.”
Likewise, Managing Director Gina Kashuk recalls her mentor emphasizing the importance of understanding the perspectives of all parties before making a decision. She comments, “It is really dangerous to make a decision with only half of the information.”
We may encounter some of our most important mentors long before embarking on a career. Managing Director Jane Murray makes this point: “I’ve had several mentors and role models over the years but there was one particular lady, a teacher, who significantly shaped my approach to life and my career.” This teacher battled Multiple Sclerosis for more than 50 years, yet never let the disease define her or her career.
Jane stresses that her mentor chose to live life with purpose and on her own terms. “She was courageous, optimistic and determined, encouraging her pupils and everyone she touched to be the best versions of themselves.” These are the qualities and life lessons that have guided Jane throughout her career and life in general and that she now strives to model for others.
Women leaders who have benefited from having a valued mentor recognize the importance of sharing their knowledge and nurturing talent by becoming mentors themselves. Gina Kashuk sums up this sentiment, “Mentors helped shape me into the leader I am today. I’m so grateful for the time they invested in me, and I feel passionate about paying it forward to others.”
Mentors play a multifaceted role guiding their mentees, advocating on their behalf and opening doors to new growth opportunities. Women leaders at WTW highlighted how their mentors had a lasting impact on their careers and empowered them to chart their own bold path forward. It is this impact that we celebrate on International Women’s Day.