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It Takes A Village

Where do we go without the guidance of others?

I remember my first Entrepreneurship class at the Farley Center. Heather Aranyi was teaching the course Monetizing Your Fanbase. When it was time for me to introduce myself, she empowered me to speak up for myself, to celebrate my craft, and understand my worth. Elizabeth Lukehart, allowed me to do an independent study with her, after meeting just once. Becoming my guiding light, she offered her ears and heart to my experiences as a young woman of color in entrepreneurship. Trish Thomas pushed me to find my purpose and celebrate my failures. Elizabeth, Heather, and Trish offered me their time and advice, becoming my personal champions for opportunities that would eventually come my way.

It is no secret, that women-owned ventures have higher failure rates than male-owned ventures. For me, the support of all of these women are one of the biggest reasons why I have not yet failed. Mentorship is critical to successful careers for young professionals, and that’s true no matter who you are. A great mentor can offer critical insight into how a business runs and what leadership looks for before it promotes. A great mentor can push you to seek out advancement and help make sure you have the tools to succeed. And, critically, a great mentor will tell you when to take on leadership opportunities and seek promotion with confidence, while being your advocate when you do so. And that confidence, that ambition, is something women are too often discouraged from when we’re young. Mentors can help reignite that fire and push women to achieve more than we’ve been told we’re destined for.

The end result of more women going after leadership roles is more women in leadership roles, and that’s an unequivocally good thing, with exponentially positive effects.

It Creates More Opportunities for Women

There’s an interesting cumulative effect to building the foundations for group professional advancement through mentorship: it grows itself organically over time. While not every mentored woman will go on to managerial or executive roles in a company, enough of them will; and they’ll take on their own mentees, and the cycle will continue, building like a snowball until one day, we’ll look around and realize we’re everywhere. I’m not exaggerating; mentorship creates the opportunities that opens more doors to more women, which just keeps the ball rolling. It seems like such a small action, but it has an outsized effect; the woman you’re mentoring will apply those same lessons, that same attitude, across her entire career, creating a global effect over time. That’s not a small thing, and it’s the sort of grassroots, boots-on-the-ground actions that we can start doing right now, without needing permission, or boardroom action, or lawsuits, or policy changes.

It Opens the Door to Entrepreneurship to More Women

All of the above is assuming the impact of mentorship is confined within a single company, but of course it isn’t; successful, ambitious people are more likely than others to strike out on their own, and if more women meet those criteria, we’ll see a net increase of women-owned businesses. And while there are systemic barriers outside the workplace facing women-owned businesses, particularly access to capital, women taking control of their financial futures (and assuming the requisite social power that comes from business ownership) not only increases employment opportunities, but, as these businesses grow and succeed, can dramatically increase their ability to exert positive change on even larger scales; business owners enter and influence political life at every level, control greater economic resources, and can impact their communities on a scale few others can. And with women currently exercising that control over a mere 4.8% of Fortune 500 companies, there’s a huge gap to be bridged.

So much of what keeps women on the economic margins are things that mentorship can tackle: lack of access to leadership roles, lack of access to professional networks, lack of support, lack of independence. Mentorship can break the cycle that continues to exclude women from professional growth and success, and that will have an outsized impact no matter what.

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