Why Powerful Corporate Women Become Mentors

May 26, 2015 12:55 pm

By Barbara Frankel
1-2-3-4[1] copyIf you ask a very senior corporate woman how she got there, there’s a high probability she’ll cite her mentors and sponsors. Now, thanks to a State Department program, these top female executives are helping a new generation of women leaders in developing companies.

For example, Accenture Chief Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook recently
spent a Sunday in Central Park with her new global mentee, Clara de Tezanos of Guatemala.

“I wanted to make sure she could look me in the eye and I could look her in the eye in a place that was comfortable and neutral. I wanted to make sure Clara was comfortable with me and that she could get to know me as a human being before entering the world of Accenture,” Ellyn says.

Ellyn and Clara, and Accenture Chief Marketing Officer Roxanne Taylor and her mentee, Sun Bo of Inner Mongolia, are part of this program for very senior corporate women to mentor women professionals and entrepreneurs from developing countries.

The Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, run by the U.S. State Department, is administered by the non-government organization Vital Voices Global Partnership. It has been in existence since 2006 and more than 250 global businesswomen have participated.  In addition to Accenture, No. 15 on The 2015 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, corporate partners have included EY, No. 4, and Time Warner, No. 41.

Like Ellyn and Roxanne, the senior corporate mentors have been helped by mentors and sponsors in their own careers and want to give back.

“I have a huge passion for mentoring.  I have had great fortune over the course of my career to have incredible mentors, people who have helped me achieve a role in my professional life that I could never have dreamed of. I want to help women dream in a different way and then articulate that dream is about,” Ellyn says.

Adds Roxanne: “I sponsored our first mentee in 2009, when the program launched, and I’ve stayed with it for a number of reasons. I believe mentors and mentees play a critical role in career success. They are particularly important for women
and others from diverse backgrounds.”

The Mentees

Clara, Ellyn’s mentee, is the Director and CEO of La Fototeca, a school and contemporary photography center in Guatemala City. The company has annual revenue of $500,000 and 14 full-time employees. Its main source of revenue is short-term courses and one-year photography programs, as well as events, exhibits and producing the GuatePhoto Festival.

“There was a rigorous selection process,” Clara recalls. “The culture is to pay it forward. What I am going to learn here I am going to use to help other women.”

Sun Bo, Roxanne’s mentee, is a travel expert who has published 10 academic travel books.  She founded Beijing Sun Pala Culture Communication Co. Ltd. in 2009 as a professional travel and leisure business. Her company employs more than 50
people and now has offices in Tokyo, London and Milan as well as China. She is completing her executive MBA at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

“This is a good opportunity to study from powerful U.S. women on how to get ahead of the business and make the world better,” she says.

The Program

The month-long program starts with a four-day orientation in Washington, D.C.  The mentees meet with senior women at the State Department, receive training on leadership and communications, and meet with women leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors.  They then move to the offices of their corporate mentors (in this case Accenture’s New York City offices) and learn about the mentor’s company and receive specific help. They all reconvene in New York for a closing program.

The alumnae return to their home countries where the Vital Voices Leadership Network helps them apply what they have learned and help other women. The U.S. Department of State International Exchange Alumni online community gives them access to a global network of more than 1 million people and almost 400 associations.

What the Mentors Share

For Roxanne, the most important advice she has for Sun Bo is “to continue to stay open to new ideas and to keep her quest to learn new things. She is a talented photographer ­ and this gives her a unique view of the world. And, she is fearless ­ not afraid to take risks and to ask questions.”

For Ellyn, the opportunity to help women help others is most important. “Clara, for example is interested in increasing the impact of her business.  So she’s meeting with a communications coach but also a co-CEO of a creative company. (I want to) really help Clara think about how she takes herself forward ­ her creative voice, vision and moral authority,” says Ellyn.