Why be a mentor?


women mentors

Most of us in the entrepreneurial ecosystem have a pretty good idea of the benefits of mentoring to founders: unbiased advice from experienced entrepreneurs; expert feedback on their business plan, pitch decks, business model, etc; guidance on how to handle a multitude of issues from IP ownership, to crafting a founder’s agreement, to what to do about a team member who’s not pulling their weight.

But what’s in it for mentors? All mentors are volunteers and most academic and non-profit mentoring programs have strict rules about mentors being compensated in anyway by mentees. Mentoring takes up time, which the busier the person, the most valuable their time is. And mentoring is uncertain, you don’t really know how the venture you mentor will progress – after all, you aren’t on the Board of Director or even on a advisory board. So why do successful people mentor?

The Fortune article by Beth Kowitt entitled What Motivates the World’s Most Powerful Women to Mentor provides a first hand look some of the mentors who participated in Fortune’s Global Women’s Mentoring Program with the State Department.

The program brought together 21 women from around the globe to match business leaders with some of the top female executives in the U.S. This year’s mentors hailed from companies including Fidelity, Mastercard, IBMAccenture, and Johnson & Johnson. Here’s how it worked:

U.S. Embassies from around the world recommend emerging executives and entrepreneurs for the program. Fortune then selects and matches the nominees with members of our Most Powerful Women community who have volunteered to act as mentors. After an orientation in Washington, the mentees disperse to cities around the U.S. to spend the next two weeks with their mentors, who share best practices and skills. In some cases, the mentees closely shadow their mentors and even stay in their homes. The program ends with all of the mentees reconvening in New York City for a dinner and debriefing.

Here’s a distillation of the motivations of some of the mentors:

  • … it just makes you more of a real person and it makes you more compassionate and more understanding.
  • As someone who wants to always make sure that I’m helping young women succeed in business, I think it’s very, very important that you make time to coach and mentor others.
  • It gives both sides the opportunity of being a mentor and a mentee to learn about a culture that’s different, the common challenges in starting a business, but also the differences in running a business.
  • I think connecting women around the world is going to be hugely beneficial for all of us.
  • Helping women with great talent but no organizational skills to access the market

This short term (two weeks), cross cultural program for women is highly unusual. Most mentoring programs are much longer term, even open ended. Some mentees at MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service have been mentored for years.

But regardless of the length of the program, gender of the mentees, or their national origin, these motivations to help others tend to be found in all mentors, regardless of gender. But given the need to help women entrepreneurs succeed against prevailing sexism and other impediments that tends to be a large part of such programs as Fortune’s Global Women’s Mentoring Program.



Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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