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  • Robyn Smith, Director of Client Services

Three Thoughts on Growing the Next Generation of Female Leaders

The word “mentorship” gets thrown around a lot; defines mentorship as:

1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

For me, mentorship is a role one person plays in supporting another. It can be a more defined mentor/mentee relationship (although I’d argue this is becoming less common), can be short or long, can evolve over time, and, in some cases, a person may not even be aware of his/her role as a mentor.

While the definition of “mentorship” is loose, there is no question that it plays a critical role in cultivating the next generation of female leaders. And there are three elements I see as the foundation to help future stars rise up.

1) You can be what you cannot see, but it sure is a heck of a lot easier when you can see it.

Many industries suffer from greater male representation at the top – look at finance, engineering, architecture or my industry, advertising – which makes female role models less plentiful than we’d like.

Think of solving a complex math problem without ever being shown a similar problem. Unless you are extremely gifted in mathematics, that would be very difficult. It’s no different when we don’t have an example in our careers. So what can we do?

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a role where the next generation looks up to you, don’t fly under the radar. Share your experience and what it took to get here. The path will be different for everyone, but it certainly is helpful to have a model to work from.

2) It takes a village.

I read that if a man sees a job posting and has half the qualifications he’ll go for it, while a woman is more likely to hold back unless she has all the qualifications. Whether or not this is true, the idea that women doubt themselves more then men is valid. In my personal experience, I’ve doubted myself more often than not. I’ve said, “Are you sure I can do it?” more than I’ve ever said, “I’ve got this!” But what has propelled me when I doubted myself? The people around me.

Helping someone see themselves in a different light allows them to gain the confidence to take the next step or stretch for an opportunity that seems out of reach. When you see potential, nurture it and help it grow. Acknowledge successes and build people up. Eventually they will start to see it for themselves.

3) Time is worth its weight in gold.

Early in my career I had a boss and mentor who struggled to make time for people. I was young and eager but when I needed guidance, I felt like a nuisance in asking for his time. Based on that experience, I’ve always vowed to be generous with my time. I still ask people to respect my time and use it wisely – but I always try to make time for someone who needs it.

So how do we cultivate tomorrow’s female leaders? Set an example, be generous with your time, and remember it sometimes takes a village.

The views in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of SheTalks.

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