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Last year, when Anne Delorme announced an MBA women's mentoring program, she was overwhelmed by the response. "I thought I'd have trouble finding enough mentors," says the MBA student who graduates from the Desautels Faculty of Management this week, "but 40 businesswomen offered to help."
Delorme was the driving force behind the one-on-one mentoring project for female MBA students, first discussed in 2005. With input from Dr. Nancy Adler and other faculty, a program was designed to provide students with an opportunity to meet and learn about career management from successful women. A six-month trial project was launched last November and successfully wound up with a closing dinner in early May. The program will be repeated next year.
Nancy Wells, Director - MBA program, says the key to success is the effort taken to match the right mentor with the right 'mentee' (or student). "We do this according to career interests. We pair people with the same professional backgrounds or who aspire to work in the same sector."
Valerie Lukac, who hopes to finish her MBA in December and wants to work as a hospital administrator, was matched with Cynda Heward, President, St. Mary's Hospital Foundation.
One-on-one mentoring promotes personalized dialogue and direct feedback. During the six-month program, Lukac and Heward met several times, talked on the telephone and emailed each other. "I really opened up to her," Lukac said. "I felt comfortable talking about my career and personal life and how to manage both."
Most of Heward's advice boiled down to a lot of common sense. But, Lukac said, "It helps to hear this from someone with more experience. Cynda encouraged me to aim high and not to hesitate to contact senior people in a company because people are generally quite open and happy to give advice."
Studies often cite the absence of role models as a key barrier to women's advancement in business in Canada and elsewhere. Women hold fewer executive positions than men and earn less; in fact, 75 per cent of Fortune 500 companies report no women as top earners.
Most mentors agree it's important to impart a sense of confidence.
"It's all about attitude," says Joan Vogelsang, President and CEO of ToonBoom Animation and one of an intergenerational group of three women who spoke at the program's closing dinner. "I can't stand people who complain about their jobs," she says. "We spend so much time at work. You'll go farther if you're enthusiastic."
Vogelsang often hears from motivated students who lack self-assurance. Success, she says, comes from knowing what you want and being good at what you do. "We make choices, not compromises."
But it's not always easy. Vogelsang supports the MBA women's mentoring program because she had few female role models when she was young. "I always tell people, 'Decide what you want," she said. "Then, stay focused and work hard.' A misstep can be a valuable lesson learned. Don't dwell on the negative."