Global mentoring program kicks off in DC

April 29, 2009, 11:25 PM UTC

I’m on the run in Washington, following meetings at the White House yesterday and a spectacular “Most Powerful Women Evening With…” dinner that Fortune hosted on Monday night in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. We had eight U.S. Senators with us–including our speakers, Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas–and scores of women leaders, a touch of royalty (HM Queen Noor, who is stunning), plus 32 rising-star women from across the developing world.

These international women leaders were the real heroes of the evening–all participants in this year’s Fortune/U.S. State Department mentoring partnership this year. To talk about MPWomen and reaching out globally, I led a panel with Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore, Goldman Sachs  Managing Director Dina Powell (both of them mentors), and a former mentee in the program, Maria Pacheco.

Each week, Time Inc. does a Q&A called “Four Questions” with a different editor. The company happens to have done the “Four Questions” with me this week and the mentoring program is featured front and center. The Q&A just popped into my inbox as well as the inboxes of staffers across Time Inc. And it strikes me that, well, I should share it with you. So, enjoy!…

Four Questions: Pattie Sellers, Editor at Large, Fortune & Chair of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit

Q: The Fortune/U.S. State Department Mentoring Partnership kicks off this week. Can you tell us what the program does for the women invited to participate?

Pattie: The mentoring program, now in its fourth year, brings rising-star women from across the developing world to the U.S. for the month of May. We pair these women–mostly businesswomen in their 30’s–with participants of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. Ideally, the mentor and mentee learn from one another. As Avon CEO Andrea Jung, who has mentored every year, says, “By the end of the program, you shouldn’t be able to figure out who is the mentor and who is the mentee.”

Q: Is there one mentee from the past or present that really made an impression on you and why?

Pattie: We’ve had so many remarkable mentees. One of them, Maria Pacheco, was part of panel (with Ann Moore) that I moderated at our “Most Powerful Women Evening With…” dinner in Washington on Monday. Maria is a social entrepreneur from Guatemala who connects business women in rural communities with marketplaces around the world, so they can sell their crafts and other goods globally. Maria was a mentee in 2006, our launch year, with Kathy Bushkin Calvin at Ted Turner’s UN Foundation. Maria says that the experience changed her life. Since then, she’s helped the UNF with several of its programs, and the UNF has helped Maria dramatically expand her Guatemalan efforts.

Q: What is the most surprising trait among Fortune’s Most Powerful Women?

Pattie: They’re more normal than they were a decade ago. Seriously, look at Xerox’s Anne Mulcahy and a lot of the other female Fortune 500 CEOs (there are only 15 of them, so it’s an easy bunch to examine): Practically all of them are normal–not extreme characters as the last generation of female CEOs had to be. They tended to be brash and tough to a fault. Carly Fiorina was the end of that era. Now she, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard , is planning to run for the U.S. Senate in California. Meg Whitman, who was CEO of eBay and another former No. 1 on our Most Powerful Women list, is running for governor there.

Q: Besides your own, which is your favorite Time Inc. brand?

Pattie: Sports Illustrated. It’s not the magazine that I read the most, but it’s one I read to learn to be a better writer. I really admire SI for its profiles and great narratives. Both sports and business are about competition–winners and losers, triumphs and failures–and we writers at Fortune can learn a lot from the best stories in SI.

Q: Who is an up and coming female executive that you think is a future CEO?

Pattie: When Ursula Burns, the president of Xerox, succeeds Anne Mulcahy as CEO of Xerox, it will be the first woman-to-woman handoff ever in the Fortune 500. Another one to come: Liz Smith succeeding Andrea Jung at Avon. But that’s further off. Burns and Smith are both terrific managers who have learned from standout CEOs.