Why Women Need to Mentor Each Other
For professional women in finance and related fields, mentor-mentee relationships, whether formal or informal, are crucial.
6 May 2019
At the spring kickoff celebration for our global Women IN program held at the Ace Hotel in Chicago, longtime Intralinkser Katherine Velez, who has held many positions of responsibility in the company, spoke eloquently about the importance of women mentoring other women. Katherine’s remarks were so poignant and inspiring that we thought we’d share them with our entire community.
Good evening, ladies!
I am so happy to be here with you today on this spectacular rooftop surrounded by women whom I am proud and privileged to call colleagues and friends.
For those of you I haven’t met yet, my name is Katherine Velez, and I’m a member of the Intralinks Alternative Investments team.
Several years ago Intralinks launched the Women IN event series as a global initiative to support women around the world in finance careers. As members of the ecosystem, we recognize that women are underrepresented in financial services, and we are on a mission to help change that.
As part of this program, we have hosted summits, panels and networking sessions in London, Dubai, Madrid, Amsterdam, São Paulo, New York, Boston and San Francisco; and now we’re here again in Chicago. Our approach is to build local communities of female professionals where we can connect, support and learn from one another and foster a pipeline for future leaders.
I’d like to take just a few minutes to expand on that last point: building a pipeline. We understand the value of a strong pipeline in the context of business. It gives us a sense of security and accomplishment as we set up ourselves and our careers for growth.
It’s my personal belief that the pipeline, or lack thereof, has contributed significantly to the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles in the business and financial services communities. The World Economic Forum ranks female talent among the top underutilized resources in business. In industries like financial services, this is especially clear. Although 46 percent of financial services employees are women, at the executive level we are only 15 percent. In investment services, the numbers are even more grim. Women hold only 6 percent of senior roles in private equity (PE) and 3 percent in hedge funds.
That’s bananas! But if you look down the pipeline, it’s also not surprising. Despite being the majority on college campuses, women are the minority pursuing business and finance degrees.
"It is hard to be in the minority in finance and investment services. It’s a slog that takes focus and fortitude. Recognize that in yourselves and in each other, because it is as a community that we can drive systemic change together."
Some of us here today were lucky enough to have mentors early in our lives to help guide and encourage us to pursue male-dominated fields of study or career paths, encouraging us to find the confidence within ourselves to be counted among the few. Take a minute to think about the individuals in your life who impacted your career decisions and what role they played. Did they share their personal experiences or provide a sounding board or help you find the courage to make the big decisions, like pursuing degrees in business or finance? Decisions like applying for that banking job? Or the decision to stick with it when you are just so damn tired? These are not foregone conclusions; you could have chosen differently, so you should be proud of yourselves and of each other for sticking with it. We need more women like you!
Mentor-mentee relationships, whether formal or informal, provide benefits to both parties. The benefits to the mentee are perhaps more obvious: Having a trusted mentor gives you a safe space to think boldly, vent frustrations, lament setbacks, and then map out a plan to keep going toward your goals and stretch beyond them.
But the benefits to the mentor in the relationship are just as palpable. As I stand before you nearly seven months pregnant with my third child, I am quite literally the physical metaphor of a mentor. Like a parent, a mentor has the opportunity to share in the growth of an individual by transferring knowledge and skills to help shape the future – yours and theirs.
Being a mentor offers tangible benefits to one’s own career, in addition to the altruistic nature of giving back. These include:
- Building your own reputation as a subject matter expert and leader
- Gaining exposure to fresh perspectives, new ideas and creative approaches
- Developing your personal leadership and coaching style, which will be critical as you move up the ladder and need a team to support your initiatives
There are definitely parallel benefits in the parenting world, but we can get into that at another time.
"Think about ways you can be a positive influence on building a strong pipeline of young women to join us. No effort is too small. The ROI will be greater than you know."
Being a mentor doesn’t have to be a formal commitment. Formal programs are popping up more frequently – and I would urge you all to participate if they are available to you – but you can also start small. Spend time with your niece talking financial literacy. Have coffee with the female members of the incoming class. Let your colleague know you’re there to commiserate after a tough day. Take advantage of spontaneous moments to share your knowledge and insights with the young women of today who will reach for leadership roles tomorrow.
As I wrap up, I want to reiterate that it is hard to be in the minority in finance and investment services. It’s a slog that takes focus and fortitude. Recognize that in yourselves and in each other, because it is as a community that we can drive systemic change together.
You have a two-part homework assignment:
1. Thank the people who have been influential in your life and career. They may already know the influence they’ve had, but your gratitude may give them the needed push to continue to find opportunities to mentor others.
2. Think about ways you can be a positive influence on building a strong pipeline of young women to join us. No effort is too small. The ROI will be greater than you know.
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