In a 2009 USA Today story about the role of male mentors in the professional advancement of women, former Avon CEO James Preston recalled how he found it strange that a brand for women with a sales force of women was led by men. As he rose through the ranks of the beauty company, he sought to change that.
“I’m a first-generation American, and everyone has a right to be given an opportunity to do their best,” Preston told the paper.
Preston’s view is in sync with my beliefs. I was not born into privilege and had to work hard to build my own network, business relationships, and personal and professional reputation. At times, I felt like a minority in this industry, which can have a “fraternity boy” or “good old boy” feel, neither of which apply to my upbringing, beliefs or preference.
For this reason — coupled with the fact that mentoring, teaching and coaching have been in my blood since I was a young man — I was particularly intrigued and flattered when I was invited by a former female co-worker to be one of two male mentors in the New York City chapter’s most recent WISE Within cycle. After some thought, I was convinced that being a mentor for a female-centric organization would enable me to advise women from a unique perspective. I could offer a candid view from the “other side of the table” in situations in which women felt they may have been passed over for a project, job or promotion based on gender.
My mentoring experience proved to be a rewarding one. I was paired with a young lady who loved her job, but felt that she was not being afforded the challenges and opportunities for growth that she felt capable of handling. I was able to impart the experience-driven advice that sometimes, particularly in the sports and lifestyle marketing business, it is OK and even beneficial to stop to smell the roses —personally and professionally — and to take a step outside oneself and learn about the jobs others in and outside of the company have.
By striking work-life balance and slowing the game down enough to see things from the vantage points of co-workers, clients and others, my protégé was able to build synergy with other departments to the benefit of the organization and its customers while setting herself up for future advancement.
Year 1 of my WISE Within mentoring experience had the bonus effect of enabling me to better hire, train, motivate and manage not only women, but all types of employees. More broadly, I feel I increased mutual empathy among team members of my company, Source Communications, which already has a unique environment of employee development that cultivates and rewards great ideas and innovative, strategic thinking at all levels. This environment leads to superior client service and results as well as to loyal employees of all ages, backgrounds and genders who feel valued and esteemed.