These days there are two main focal points when it comes to creating a corporate women’s leadership program. Many companies tend to create both a women’s network and a formal mentoring program. Both are wonderful. They are also resource-intensive to implement effectively.
With women’s networks, the idea is to have a monthly or quarterly event where women (and supportive men) meet to hear from a speaker. It’s an education-based networking opportunity. These events are fantastic. They create great energy, and participants leave feeling primed to implement exciting new ideas. Not to mention that the company has provided something genuinely valuable. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, life gets in the way once she returns to her desk. Maybe three new projects the boss needs land on her desk, and simultaneously her kid gets sick, and that cool new idea she just heard about and wants to implement falls so far down her to-do list that it starts to look like it’s never gonna happen.
The other route companies often take with women’s leadership initiatives is offering one-to-one mentoring. I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I say, yes, mentorship is the solution. Being shown the ropes by someone who’s been there before is ideal. It’s also extremely time intensive to organize and recruit high quality mentors, many of whom (at least at this stage of the game) are still men. Once mentors and mentees are paired, there is a level of finger-crossing that they hit it off personality-wise. If that happens, so do amazing things; if it doesn’t, big opportunities may be missed. Also, attempting to scale such an initiative across a global organization isn’t easy.
In a perfect scenario, women’s networks and one-to-one mentoring would be combined. Women would attend high-impact networking events offering immediately implementable, incredible tools while simultaneously being guided in career navigation by a top female executive in the company. But for many business women hungry to climb the ladder, this isn’t happening. I think we need a better solution. It just so happens I have one to offer.
Enter Peer-Mentorship, which centers around groups of 3 – 4 women who meet monthly to talk with and support each other regarding how they want to advance their careers. These small groups offer a safe, confidential environment where work challenges can be discussed without inflicting career damage. If you’ve ever experienced connecting with someone else around the words “me, too!”, you recognize that half the battle is knowing you aren’t alone. Coming together with those who understand the company culture, who want to grow in their career and have most likely faced the same challenges you have is reassuring.
Most people know a few colleagues in the office, maybe they even have a work-wife or work-husband to whom they tell everything. Still, that’s not the same thing as having a support system at work, which is precisely what Peer-Mentorship offers. It’s the critical component to building the most successful women’s leadership programs possible. Trust us, WE’ve implemented these groups within companies like CBRE and Intel, and I can tell you that the impact of these peer groups has been significant and palpable.
The biggest hesitation to Peer-Mentorship I hear from companies is that they fear these groups will just be a gripe fest, but that’s easily avoided by ensuring the peer group conversations are driven by leadership development topics. In the groups WE’ve established, each meeting has a set discussion topic that keeps the groups focused.
For anyone interested, WE have done extensive research and created the Women Evolution Peer-Mentoring Toolkit which gives step-by-step instructions to create and implement a 6-month Peer-Mentoring program.
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