Mentorship can come in many forms. For women looking for a mentor in the metro area, that relationship can be defined in many ways.
For Gina Ponce of Women on a Mission for Change (WMC), mentorship is substantive, meaningful, valuable experiences and relationships.
“As a mentor, I feel I have been very successful,” said Ponce, who leads Bellevue University’s outreach efforts to the Latino community. “Sometimes [mentees] spread their wings and move on but come back to celebrate themselves and you. It can be long term or short term depending on the needs of the mentee.”
As a mentee, Ponce said she was always “willing to receive and enact whatever it was that I was receiving that would make me successful.”
“I always sought people in my life who I could connect with,” she said.
WMC is an organization that has been in the “business” of helping women and girls since 2011, according to Ponce.
“And I still talk with some of the participants of the conference, the gala and the girls who have participated in the mentoring program,” she said, while referring to signature events and offerings. “By staying in touch, they are reminded that if they need us we are still here to assist them. Some of them have come back as speakers, have written books, graduated college, and started their own businesses. That is how we measure success.”
Generally, Ponce said the most important aspect of mentoring is just “being there.”
“Sometimes women do not know where to start,” she said. “If they have a mentor, the mentor can guide and support them through their journey of life – personally and professionally. I feel that our role in life as women is to lift others up, and watch them be successful in whatever they are trying to accomplish.”
As another nod to the WMC Women’s Conference slated for March 24, Ponce said that throughout the event women are present with other women who are in the “same place,” who share their journeys, and from whom they can learn from.
“Some [women] have such busy lives taking care of others that they forget about themselves,” she remarked. “Sometimes, they do not see the potential they have to succeed. Sometimes, as mentors, we see the capabilities another woman may have and we can point it out and offer the assistance and resources they need to accomplish their goals.”
A successful mentor listens, encourages and provides resources, according to Ponce, who indicated that successful mentor/mentee relationships are built on bonding and the ability to recognize what each person has to offer and receive.
“Be consistent and help [the mentee] celebrate what they have accomplished, even the smallest of successes,” Ponce said.
Workforce Development Director Alicia Frieze of the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce spoke about how she has benefited from mentors throughout her career.
“Without the mentorships that I have received, I would not have been able to continue to grow in my career the way that I have or at the rate that I succeeded,” she said. “I continue to meet with mentors that mentor different aspects of my life.”
She noted the importance of having someone in the profession “to discuss your goals and get advice and guidance.”
Additionally, Frieze highlighted the L.I.F.T. Mentor Program, an initiative of the CB Chamber, Human Resource Association of the Midlands and Business Ethics Alliance.
Derived from carefully-crafted and thorough mentor/mentee handbooks, Frieze underscored that the program: “ … is focused on supporting talented professional women looking to restart their careers after an extended absence from the workforce. Women have historically taken on many roles that have caused them to exit the workforce temporarily. Such responsibilities include, but are not limited to, giving birth and raising children, or caring for aging or ailing relatives.”
Additionally, it was noted that COVID-19 caused many mothers to return home – ensuring the well-being of their families, and assuming the duties of educators as schools closed.
L.I.F.T. elevates participants by providing opportunities for them to receive one-on-one professional mentorship, get reacquainted with professional networks, and bolster their skills, perspectives and potential career paths.
“Statistics suggest that 80% of women will not apply for a career unless they have 100% of the requirements – I am one of those statistics,” Frieze said. “So, it is important to show the women of our community support and give them the strength they need to succeed.”
Frieze said top qualities for a mentor to have include active listening, vulnerability, providing corrective feedback, and speaking of mentees in positive and neutral ways.
“Your mentee needs to trust that your discussions are confidential and that the mentoring relationship is mutually supportive,” she added.
As it relates to healthy mentor/mentee relationships, being authentic when sharing experiences and stories is essential, as well as being realistic, enthusiastic and open-minded.
Full STEAM Ahead
As a communications strategist at UNeTech at UNMC and the principal investigator for the Opportunity Corps: Women in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) grant, Stephanie Kidd enthusiastically noted benefiting from mentorship as both mentee and mentor.
“I have a mentor, Kent, for my theater work,” she explained. “He is over 80, and I love that aspect of our mentorship. One of the things we teach in Opportunity Corps is to understand that mentorships can come in all forms, even though most of us think of them as the traditional form of someone who is simply above us structurally within our workplace. Kent is a joy as a mentor – brilliant, kind, collaborative.”
When putting on her mentor “hat,” Kidd said, “I have mentored a number of women through Junior League of Omaha, both formally and informally. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the League.”
In her option, Kidd explained why mentoring is important for women in the context of the STEAM program.
“We know these women face barriers to success within these industries,” she said. “Opportunity Corps pairs our fellows with women mentors within these industries who have already found success.
“We intentionally pair them based on what they tell us they need – career growth, personal growth, networking opportunities. Research shows women are less likely to ask for mentorship and also less likely to find women to serve that need.”
She continued by saying that they see the value in pairing women together who understand their unique issues, in addition to specific needs for guidance.
“Women must navigate through space in a way that men do not,” Kidd added. “Our program focuses on how women can help lift up other women, and connect to share solutions. Additionally, our program has taught us that women use mentors differently than men – with more intention, more emotional connection.”
Now in its second year and as a collaborative UNeTech Institute/Bio Nebraska effort, the Opportunity Corps leaders further encourage their teams to create an “intake process.”
“Our program is 10 months long, and without a specific plan that time could easily slip by without accomplishing much,” she stated. “But if the mentee comes to the mentorship knowing what she wants to accomplish, the mentorship will be much more successful. We also encourage both partners to be open and willing to learn from each other.”
‘I know a woman’
When Megan Belcher, chief legal and external affairs officer at Scoular, founded Drinks Among Friends, she aimed to create a coalition of women in the legal industry through networking.
“In Omaha, we saw that when referrals and business was allocated, there was a bit of ‘I know a guy’ tagline,” Belcher said. “We wanted to flip the script and make sure that everyone ‘knew a woman’ who was a strong go-to either for outside counsel work, leadership roles, or even for judicial candidates.”
She noted that women, especially women of color, are underrepresented in the top-tier leadership in law in Omaha.
“It’s time to bring the amazing talent we have among the women in law in Omaha to the front of the stage and put them in positions to leverage their superpowers and influence,” Belcher said. “Drinks Among Friends does that by creating informal networks for referrals, visibility for women in law, and development opportunities that we hope will change the rules of the game.”
Through such avenues, finding a mentor not only offers valuable advice to a mentee, but also “offers the mentor’s network as an additional path,” she said.
“Those relationships are incredibly powerful, especially when you think about a relational business community like Omaha,” she added.
Belcher, who noted many meaningful relationships as a mentee and a mentor, shared her advice to making the most out of the relationship.
“Both parties have to be actively engaged, and come to the relationship with an open hand,” she said. “The mentee can sometimes deliver just as much as a mentor. In addition, if it’s not on your calendar, it’s not going to happen. So carving out deliberate and dedicated time is essential to a powerful mentor/mentee relationship.
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