Ask a roomful of accomplished business leaders the secrets to their success, and faces will light up as they tell you about the mentors who gave them confidence, the role models who showed them how it was done, the sponsors who opened doors and the coaches who helped keep their drive alive. Mentorship can be a tremendously important aspect of a successful career; its positive impacts on the growth and development of professional women — particularly emerging leaders — can be immeasurable.
When we look at the corporate environment today, it’s true that the overall rate of women’s advancement into executive positions continues to lag the ideal — 7.4% representation among Fortune 500 CEOs is a stark reminder — but an increasing number of companies are recognizing the competitive advantages of diversity, including its proven correlation with financial outperformance, according to findings from a recent study, “Delivering Through Diversity,” by McKinsey & Company.
These businesses are taking action to remove gender barriers, address unconscious bias and intentionally increase the number of women in positions of power. Mentorship can help prepare women to leverage these opportunities and continue advancing throughout their careers.
As senior leaders with over 20 plus years in the mortgage business, we’ve both directly benefited from mentorship throughout our careers, which is why we feel so strongly about paying it forward to the next generation; and we’re not alone in this thinking either. We’ve recently spent time reflecting on the impact of mentorship with fellow colleagues and friends, too. What we’ve found through these conversations is that, regardless of age, tenure or background, mentorship is the common thread that ties us all together. And yet, as the American workforce evolves over time, with the rise in telework and more communication channels than ever to keep up with, we can all passionately agree on one thing: that mentorship has always been important to women’s advancement in the professional world but today, it is absolutely essential.
The pandemic amplifies the need for women’s mentorship
In early 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women outnumbered men in payroll jobs at the end of 2019 — the first time this had happened since 2010 and only the second time in history. Although at 50.04% the edge was slight, this statistic signaled a positive trend for working women. Then came COVID-19.
Appropriately dubbed a “shecession” by C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic has been particularly brutal to women, and especially women of color. Huge numbers of women have lost their jobs, left the workforce or downsized their careers to juggle demands at home. We all saw the shocking number of women — 865,000 — who left the workforce when the new school year began in September. This number represents four times that of men: With children learning from home, and child care options limited, parenting responsibilities fell largely onto moms. Whether they have given up their jobs with the hope of one day returning to the workforce or have developed a successful hybrid mode of operation encompassing both work and home responsibilities, women need mentors to help them navigate what comes next.
Mentorship myths that hold some of us back
Despite its well-documented benefits, and newfound importance as a result of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women, many senior women leaders are still apprehensive of mentorship for a multitude of reasons. For starters, the time commitment can feel like a barrier. With hectic work schedules and responsibilities on the home front, time is the most precious commodity to all of us. However, in our experience, mentorship has not taken up a great deal of time; and what we have found is that the time spent mentoring is indeed, time well spent. Carving out time for a 15-minute phone conversation, or even sending a quick text, can be more impactful to a mentee than you may think.
Through mentorship sessions we mentors have benefited, too, as we’ve been introduced to new and creative ways of thinking we wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise, which brings us to our next myth: the mentee is the only one benefiting. This couldn’t be further from the truth! With the advent of new technology and automation in our industry – from AI and machine learning to integrating social media into our day-to-day approach – there is still so much to learn, and that insight can come from anywhere, including from a more junior employee or mentee.
Speaking of “knowing it all,” mentors shouldn’t feel pressure to have all the answers, either. Remember: you’re drawing from your work and life experiences in the hopes that mentees may learn from your successes as well as your failures. And while it may seem strange to talk about your failures openly, in doing so, you are demonstrating vulnerability which can help strengthen the bond with a mentee. This lets them know that it is ok to make mistakes, so long as they learn from them and take the necessary steps to improve.
We are firm believers that mentorship is a two-way street, and that both parties benefit greatly from regular meetups. From the young woman finding her footing in the industry to the seasoned professional who may be stuck in a creative rut, mentorship can provide a safe space to talk through today’s challenges in addition to future career goals and aspirations. Another added bonus: the personal satisfaction in knowing you are positively impacting the lives of others.
We must all challenge ourselves to answer the call to mentorship. When reflecting back on the times in our own careers when a senior leader or mentor reached back their hand to help or created a seat at the table for us, it’s easy to see why answering that call is the right thing to do.
For more information and insight on mentorship in the mortgage industry, listen to these podcast episodes of Girlfunds, a show that brings money back into the conversation with your peers.
- Overcoming “imposter syndrome” with Marcia Davies (chief operating officer for the Mortgage Bankers Association and founder of mPower – MBA’s networking platform for women in the real estate finance industry)
- Developing leaders with Realogy’s Sue Yannaccone (the CEO of Realogy Franchise Group, and also the first woman to hold this executive position)
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