Pay it Forward: Women Need Other Women’s Support

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By: Katie Barr, Executive Vice President & COO

Today, 102 women are serving in the new Congress. That is the highest number of women in U.S. history and nearly a quarter of its voting membership.

And here in Chicago, we made history by electing our first openly LGBTQ, black female mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Last month, She the People hosted the first-ever presidential forum held by and for women of color in Houston. 2020 Democratic candidates Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro spoke to an audience of more than 1,000 people, many who voiced concern over “a misleading narrative that only a white man can defeat Trump.”

While these attendees were palpably frustrated by the “double standards facing female candidates,” the passion of these attendees was heartening and it was powerful to hear about these women supporting each other.

By June, the number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies will get a little bigger, with 30 women at the helm. From Best Buy’s hiring of its first female CEO, Corie Barry to General Motor’s making Mary Barra the first female CEO of a major global automaker — 2019 is shaping up to be a good year for women.

However, there is still work to be done.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a young woman who was researching the evolving role of women in government and politics for her high school AP U.S. history class.

As I discussed sexism and gender bias in the workplace, the public’s evolving perception of female leaders and the common roadblocks women face when climbing the career ladder with this highly engaged and passionate 18-year old, I was both inspired and optimistic about the future.

As she concluded the interview, she asked about any advice I might have for women beginning their careers. I thought about the valuable lessons I’ve learned, from a woman’s need to advocate for oneself and project confidence, to the power of resiliency and to never be afraid to ask questions. But instead of any of that, I thought about the common thread that informed my thinking around each of those topics: the role of mentorship throughout my career.

Whether it be informal relationship building or structured mentorship programs, my career has been shaped by the powerful and passionate women around me. They’ve taught me how to navigate difficult office environments, how to communicate and create consensus and how to find my authentic leadership voice. The list goes on and on.

As I’ve continued to grow in my leadership responsibilities, I’ve come to appreciate that the benefits of mentorship don’t stop as you work your way up the career ladder. It has been a critical component of building my professional network and connecting with the key resources I’ll need to continue my professional development.

I know I still have more work to do and a lot more to learn from my mentors, but I’m also proud to help others through programs like Chicago Innovation’s Women Mentoring Co-op and 1871 that understand the value of mentorship.

I’ve learned firsthand that at every stage of my career, there is always a need for my mentors and the time for my mentees. Accomplishing your career goals is hard enough. You don’t have to do it alone.

Note: This article originally appeared on Medium.