The last few years have made me more reflective. I’ve become more thoughtful about how I spend my time, where I want to leave my mark, and how I impact those around me. Self-reflection is important and necessary, but so is turning your new awareness into action. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to be a mentor in the 1-to-1 Woman Mentoring Program.
Shellee Mitchell, a program specialist with NASCUS, launched this mentoring program out of a desire to do something positive with the civil unrest sparked by George Floyd’s murder, and she wanted to help female leaders turn DEI intentions into action. The program differs from other credit union mentoring programs in that it intentionally matches seasoned, white female leaders with up-and-coming, Black female professionals. When I first heard about the participant requirements, I was a little taken aback. It felt presumptuous and uncomfortable to me, but the more I learned, the more excited I became, and here’s why.
The intentionality of the mentor / mentee match was key. As working women, we likely share similar struggles – balancing careers and home life; being heard without being off-putting; and being assertive without being seen as aggressive. However, female professionals who are Black have additional obstacles and biases to overcome. Serving as a sounding board for mentees where we have shared experiences proves no one is in this alone, and both mentors and mentees can develop stronger empathy through better understanding the unique challenges the other has faced.
Bias is everywhere and we need to be intentional to overcome it. My time in the program reminded me that every person’s view of the workplace is shaped by their own experiences, and everyone’s experiences are different – even if they work in the same company. Making space to better understand our shared and individual experiences moves us beyond surface connections (such as just both being female professionals) and toward a true path to becoming an ally.
Providing a safe space is critically important. I provided my mentee with a safe space to share her struggles, as well as to ask questions which may have been hard to do within her own organization. Being vulnerable is hard for everyone, especially if you are early in your career. While I was clear I did not have all the answers, I felt confident I could provide a new perspective and apply objectivity to the discussion, both of which are critically important for career development.
The investment was low, but the impact was great! I met with my mentee for only one hour a week over the course of four weeks. That wasn’t much of a time commitment, but boy, was the time valuable to us both! I was reminded of how fragile and perishable professional confidence is – if it’s not taught and fostered, it can lead to a lifetime of achieving far less than one is capable of. I watched my mentee’s confidence bloom in just this short amount of time.
Michelle Obama once said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Let’s be real, I know I’ll never have the widespread impact that Michelle Obama has had, but through 1-to-1 Woman Mentoring I can make a meaningful impact one mentee at a time. If I can be a ripple of positive change in one person and encourage others to do the same, together we can make a wave of positive, sustainable impact.
Click here to read more about the 1-to-1 Woman Mentoring Program.