"There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women" was a heartfelt and passionately provocative quote made famous by Madeleine Albright – past US Secretary of State – and one that I find myself paraphrasing increasingly when talking about mentoring or ‘giving back’.
It’s a little harsh though. In the spirit of gender equality, I tend to feel there’s a place in hell for anyone who doesn’t use their skills and experience to better others and therefore society in general.
However in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I’m focusing on women helping women. In days where the ladder still seems to be lifted up too often, it is important to recognise the value to us all of leaving it down.oday I met with an exceptional young woman ( and yes, the use of the word ‘young’ here is relevant and important). She was introduced to me by another exceptional woman who shares my passion for encouraging and developing young talented people. This young woman is smart, driven, passionate and successfully combining her talents with her values and has created a thriving business. What she is finding as she gets ‘busier’ with her business is that she has less time to focus on herself and her original values which she recognises is causing stress. She has a supportive partner, encouraging family close by and many experts advising on the way forward for her business but no one to listen independently and allow her to reflect her own thoughts and help her find her own clarity. What my friend who introduced us had identified quite smartly was that she would benefit from a mentor.
Nowadays there are many opportunities for women in businesses or individuals to be mentors or receive mentorship. There are no shortage of skills that can be shared with those looking to start up or develop their business. I have no doubt that this is hugely beneficial.
But when it comes to the individual woman and her personal and subsequent professional growth , the benefit of hearing experiences and stories, over and above sound business advice, can be immense – no matter what level of perceived success their mentor has achieved. Everyone has a story. One thing that life provides to us all – no matter what our chosen (or given) path has been, is experience. And that is gold.
What I’m increasingly realising is that my previous thinking that successful mentors were ” fabulous women who have achieved so much ” or, even more challenging to me, ” women who have made it to the top” was limiting . For me, experience of the journey is far more valuable in the long run than admiration of the success of the individual and a desire to emulate that. After all, the definition of success can vary wildly according to your viewpoint.
Those who have heard me speak on this topic know my desire would be to distil the essence of wise heads ( think magic potion here !) and share it with young women ( in either liquid or tablet form !) to help them short circuit some of the issues that are widely faced through our lives ( most self inflicted and most, with hindsight irrelevant and limiting).Their journey would still be their own but they get the chance to see past the things that, in the scheme of a life longer lived, are inconsequential and potentially damaging to dreams and aspirations.
If there is one thing I urge you to do this International Women’s Day ( which happens to be tomorrow – 8th March ) is proactively reach out to a younger woman you know. Buy her coffee ( or a chai latté…..if that way inclined !). Offer her your time. Share some of your stories, but listen to her. Build trust based on your shared values. Trust is the key thing here. Give her space to share her roadblocks – perceived or otherwise – be an empathetic, non-judgemental safe place.
Don’t believe it’s only those who have ” achieved something ” who make the best mentors. All women, by their very being, have important stories worth sharing and I strongly believe it is incumbent on each one of us to reach out and help those younger in years and enable them to make their journey that little bit smoother and satisfying.
Madeleine Albright trail blazed at the highest level but recognised that all women, whatever they do, have a part to play in helping women and when they do, she says ” there will always be a place of special honour”.