When Kamala Harris was elected vice president of the United States, the world saw the enormous glass ceiling being shattered. In her historic acceptance speech, she said, “I may be the first woman to hold this office. But I won’t be the last.”
Those optimistic words are what will inspire many more women to follow suit, not just in the political milieu, but in general, to assume positions of power.
That is also likely to happen sooner with NASDAQ too pushing for the more than 3,000 companies listed on its U.S. stock exchange to make their boardrooms more diverse and less overwhelmingly male. These companies would require at least one board member who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ. These developments strongly echo an often-discussed subject: we need more women leading in so many different areas, from politics to the corporate world.
This is important because it is women in positions of power who can offer other women mentorship opportunities that are otherwise not as easily available to them. As the founder and CEO of my own company, as well as the mother of an ambitious young girl working hard to climb the corporate ladder, I am passionate about helping more women step into mentorship roles.
While going through some online research surveys, I recently came across a study that pointed out there is a distinct gender discrepancy when it comes to American mentorship: 82 percent of men have had male mentors, while just 69 percent of women have had female mentors. While workplace gender discrepancies are not something that women created, I believe we can actively contribute to finding solutions. Thinking about my own legacy, I’m committed to exploring the difference women-led companies can make to the corporate sector and how women can better facilitate a gender power shift.
I have been extremely privileged to work closely under the leadership of a feisty woman CEO. When I started out in the mortgage industry, it wasn’t easy being a woman of Indian origin in a male dominated industry. But it was my then boss who helped me navigate the landscape of my career. In those days, of course, the word “mentor” wasn’t that common, but unknowingly I looked up to her as that.
I have always believed that mentoring is an effective strategy to close the gender gap in leadership across industries and sectors around the world. As a woman leader who is committed to working toward a more equal world, I am always excited to be a mentor whenever and wherever needed. Whether it is women within our own company, among our partner companies, our vendors, or in any area in our ecosystem, I am only too happy to show them the right direction, counsel them on work-life balance, and help them handle the vagaries of a demanding job.
I also feel that a significant part of mentorship is about educating through our own stories, our own successes and failures, and setting expectations illustrated by experience. By sharing our own narratives, we invite others to do the same. I, for one, have ample experience to share on the tight rope walk of balancing professional and personal life. I cannot overstate how important it is to find the right median between career and family. Thankfully, for me, a large part of the way my career has shaped is due to the unflinching support I received from my husband and my daughter.
I still remember the early years when I had just started my company. I would often require to travel for work, but since we were on a shoestring budget, it was a challenge to find the right kind of places to stay. It was my husband who happily shouldered the responsibility of finding the best deals for places that were safe and comfortable given the constraints.
In those days, work was extremely demanding. But my husband and I had made this unwritten rule that we would spend the evenings with our daughter, most often, helping her with her homework. It was a sacred time and I valued it so much that I would ensure I refused work calls during that time. The result, though, was that I would have to receive the calls later, sometimes while I was making dinner which meant, I often ended up burning dinner because the call would last too long. While I recall this in jest now, I know it is the incredible support of my family that has helped me reach where I am today.
So, yes, I have been lucky to have been surrounded by supportive people and the process has taught me so many things. But it’s important to be able to pass on my learnings to other women who can gain something out of it. One of the critical aspects to becoming a leader in a corporate setting is the social access and business opportunities that come with one-to-one mentorship. This means women in power positions need to leverage that power to mentor and uplift other women.
This is all the more important in an industry like mortgage lending that has been traditionally male dominated with primarily men at the helm and women gravitating towards more supportive roles such as operations, customer service, quality control, and compliance. However, in the post-2008 years, there has been a paradigm shift in the industry.
Today, more firms are looking at customer service by offering customized experience through a higher level of professionalism, integrity, communication, and a goal to take a personal interest in each client’s unique requirements. Interestingly, most of these are inherent character traits often associated with women, which is perhaps why the industry now has more women in senior management roles. Mentor relationships, especially if a woman is mentoring other women and encouraging them to eventually do the same, can serve as a cornerstone for a close-knit professional network, with a host of benefits: access to leadership, advocacy at higher levels, and mutual support.
In the several years I have spent in the mortgage industry, I have noticed that far too many women work in isolation, sometimes because they do not have the right mentors. This is why I always believe in encouraging female leaders to mentor other women, simply because no one does it better. In order to successfully mentor women, we need to have a voice, take our right place on stage, and publicly show our interest in mentoring, while promoting more female representation at the leadership table.
This is exactly why I am actively involved in the work of National Association of Minority Mortgage Bankers of America or NAMMBA as a Visionary Ambassador. NAMMBA is a national trade association dedicated to the enrichment and betterment of minorities and women who work in the mortgage industry. In my role, a very important focus is to increase the engagement of women in the mortgage banking industry at the local, state, and national levels.
But then, mentoring does not really have to be a formal agreement. Personally, some of my successful mentoring relationships have been very informal. The key was that each time I had the best interests of my mentees at heart. I wished to invest in their success and wanted to present them with seminal advancement opportunities within the organization. I have realized the importance of this because not only has it helped the person I was mentoring grow and advance more effectively, but it also laid the foundation for a valuable professional network that could ultimately benefit all women within the organization.
Moreover, it does not really take too much to just do that little bit of handholding. By taking the time to ask an employee how they’re doing, we can enhance the health and resilience of each employee as well as an entire team.
What also encourages me now is that there has never been a generation more enthusiastic about female mentorship than the one preparing to enter the workforce today. At a time when quality has taken the place of quantity, women hold a distinct advantage since more organizations want a workforce that possesses the expertise and experience to deliver what consumers need and want most. I feel that women have a huge opportunity to capitalize on the social and emotional aspect of teamwork through leading by example.
So, I believe that all the women who are in leadership positions must ensure that their team knows they are happy to spend time mentoring any of the women who need it. If required, you can even work with your human resources team to set up an in-house mentoring program.
After all, while it is important to have a great support at home, women also need it at their workplaces. And the best ones to offer that support are the other senior women who have navigated thorny professional paths that involved moving up in male-dominated organizations while juggling the responsibilities of their domestic roles as mothers, wives, daughters, or other caregivers!
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