Why women are more likely to be mentors

May 4, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Alyse Nelson
Alyse Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vital Voices.
Photograph by Lisa Nipp for Vital Voices

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important to have a mentor? is written by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Mentors aren’t always cheerleaders–but they’re always in your corner. My best mentors have told me things I don’t want to hear, but I’m a better leader as a result. I think that the right mentor can redefine the way you view yourself; they can provoke meaningful self-reflection and stir up new ideas. In my own experience, mentoring has been one of the most effective ways to tear down the mental limitations that we all put up from time to time.

After 18 years of partnering with women leaders from around the world, I’ve realized that having a mentor is especially meaningful for women. I strongly believe that mentorship fosters leadership. It’s an exchange of experiences, knowledge, and power. It enables a mentee to form clear goals and set out to achieve them with the backing of an ally. It creates the opportunity for a mentor to leverage their most valuable experiences. In fact, the mentors who chose to invest in me have significantly impacted my career. They taught me that a mentor isn’t someone who takes your hand and guides you along a path; rather it’s someone who is ready to stand behind you–win or lose.

Above all, mentoring is a partnership. The women I’ve been lucky enough to call mentors have been invested in both my victories and failures. The wisdom, encouragement, and tough love you receive from mentors is priceless. And because I can’t directly pay back my mentors for all the help they have provided, I choose to pay it forward instead. The real advantage of mentoring is in its ability to be transitive, because power shared is power amplified. According to research from a study conducted by Catalyst in 2012, 65% of women who have been mentored will go on to become mentors themselves.

Mentoring also has the potential to trigger significant benefits on a global scale. We know that investing in women has become a new standard; from international development agencies to multinational corporations, those in leadership and policymaking positions are devoting time and resources to advance women, enhance their skills, and leverage their unique contributions. And yet barriers still remain. I think these barriers essentially stem from a lack of access–lack of access to opportunities, networks, and advocates. If we start looking at mentorship as a practical strategy to overcome these barriers, I’m certain we’ll be able to close significant gender gaps in a range of fields.

At Vital Voices, we’ve found that mentorship is critical to catalyzing future leadership and spurring economic growth. It’s universal, cost-effective, and efficient. Every woman has something to offer as a mentor and every woman has something to learn as a mentee. If we can harness the power and potential of women who are committed to sharing knowledge, skills, and access then we can accelerate women’s leadership globally.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important to have a mentor?

3 reasons every employee needs a mentor by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Why this AOL executive chooses her mentors — wisely by Allie Kline, CMO of AOL, Inc.

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