I consider myself to be extremely fortunate.
As a young girl, my parents supported me in whatever that week’s career aspiration was without question – astronaut, film star or mounted policewoman.
They encouraged, pushed and championed every step of the way.
I grew up believing I could do whatever I wanted. No question.
My gender never, ever entered the equation.
Then, I got older. And, I left home. I left my cheer squad behind.
Finding myself at university in a sprawling city and working two jobs, I experienced a much wider range of people with a much wider array of behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes towards women.
For the first time in my life, I noticed gender inequality. By the time I was in full-time employment, I’d also experienced what I know today to be referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. The term was actually first introduced in a 1978 article exploring persistent feelings of inadequacy in high-achieving women.
Fast-forward to today. I run two agencies within Interpublic Group. I consider myself to be a confident woman who is proud of what she’s achieved.
So, did I simply grit my teeth through my experiences of gender inequality? Did the Imposter Syndrome simply come and go?
Not at all. I, like many women, have at times felt intimidated in the workplace. I’ve been patronised, treated differently, excluded, and even told once that my opinions were skewed because I was “pretty” – and that was from an interview candidate!
So, what helped me navigate the gender bias? What helped me quieten the self-doubt and back myself? What made the difference?
Mentors. Amazing women that I have ‘collected’ over the years that provided the insight, experience, inspiration and support I needed along the way.
I have a tribe of incredible women mentors. One is my former boss, one a philanthropist, one sits on three ASX-listed boards, one is in the arts, and one is a partner in a consulting firm. Then, there is a bunch of women in my industry; my ecosystem that I regularly connect with simply to share war stories and use as a sounding board. You won’t get everything you need from one person. Building a tribe around yourself gives you access to diverse perspectives, rich experience, and strengthening support.
Because what you see shapes what you believe you can be, every time I connect with one of these amazing women I experience the same confidence boost I did when my parents unflinchingly told me that yes – I could be an astronaut.
As a benefactor of the kindness, generosity and support of my mentors, I am committed to ‘paying it forward’.
I am committed to being as visible and as accessible to young women as I can be.
Through visibility, we reinforce the possibilities.
Through accessibility, we teach, guide, and prevent people from making the same mistakes we made. Ultimately, we move the needle on gender equality by helping support the next generation of women leaders.
So, for companies genuinely wanting an equal world, support the women in your business to build connections. Gift them the time to develop mentor/mentee relationships.
For the individual, here’s my top three tips:
1. Play The Field
It can be daunting to find the right mentor so, get a feel for it by joining organisations like Mentor Walks – a brilliant opportunity to have a one-off mentoring session with some incredible women and to make connections with others like you. Otherwise, start with people close to you and ask for introductions.
2. Play It Cool
Don’t label it. Asking someone if they’ll be your mentor is a bit like proposing on a first date. Senior people are busy and the time commitment can scare them. Just ask for coffee, get talking and see where it goes from there.
3. Play It Professional
Finally, make it your priority. No-one else will. Make time, schedule it into your week, brush up your Linkedin profile and get connecting.
Not everyone can have the parents I had growing up but we can all seek out the people that will champion, nurture and give us the belief in ourselves that can so easily shaken in a world where gender equality is not (yet) normalised.
Helen Graney is Group Managing Director of Jack Morton and Weber Shandwick Australia.