Gender has always been a defining factor in one's professional success. Over the past few decades women have achieved notable progress integrating to corporate environments and enhancing their representation in the global workforce.

Although women have made remarkable progress, challenges remain. McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2023 report found that only 40% of women hold manager-level positions, revealing a persistent gender gap. This serves as a reminder for society to address the barriers that women face, and for leaders to provide the support women need to rise through the ranks.

The role of mentorship and support networks are essential to this journey. The exchange of knowledge and guidance between women can be transformative. International Women's Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate the transformation of women's role in the workplace and serves as a vibrant call to action, igniting the spark of mentorship and the formation of support networks that empower women to climb higher and dream bigger.

The importance of mentorship for women

Mentorship has been proven to be beneficial for personal and professional growth. Having a mentor can provide valuable insight into the industry, help navigate challenges, and open up opportunities that may not have been available otherwise.

Whether you're in a formal mentorship program for women or looking to mentor other people, here's why mentorship matters:

  • Mentors are experienced professionals who can help their protégés navigate complex professional environments.
  • Mentees have an opportunity to strengthen their existing skills and develop new ones over time.
  • Many mentors are willing to share valuable contacts, giving mentees access to additional networking opportunities.
  • Women in high-level positions understand the unique challenges of working in male-dominated industries, making them well-positioned to offer tailored advice to young professionals.
  • Mentors offer constructive feedback in a low-stakes setting, which may help mentees avoid making critical mistakes when it matters most.

Mentors also provide a valuable source of emotional and professional support. If you have a tough day, it's helpful to talk to someone who understands the challenges you're facing and listens without judgment. Skilled mentors are empathetic, but they also know when to offer tough love.

Support networks: Beyond professional growth

Your support network is made up of all the people in your life who care about your well-being. In a professional context, your support network can help you access new career opportunities, make the right connections and develop in-demand skills.

A support network generally consists of peers, mentors, sponsors and role models. Each person plays an important role in your development.

  • Peers: Peers are people who share similar backgrounds. For example, if you accept an entry-level role, your peers are the other junior employees in your company.
  • Mentors: A mentor is a trusted advisor who provides ongoing support and guidance.
  • Sponsors: Sponsors are high-level executives who advocate for you and make sure you have access to a wide range of professional opportunities.
  • Role models: Role models are the people you want to emulate, such as women who've overcome many obstacles to reach executive positions.

When things are tough, having a diverse support network makes it much easier to overcome professional challenges. You can seek honest feedback from your peers, ask your mentor to help you address knowledge or skill gaps, work with your sponsor to identify potential advancement opportunities, and look to your role models for inspiration.

Diversity also gives you access to new perspectives, sparking creativity and helping you think about your career in a different way. The more people you have in your support network, the more opportunities you have to get inspired, enhancing your personal growth and overall well-being.

Overcoming challenges in finding and building these networks

Although support networks are essential for personal and professional development, they're not always easy to build. One of the most common challenges is a lack of access to people who can serve as mentors, sponsors, and role models.

If your company doesn't have a formal mentorship program for women, you have to seek sources of support on your own. You may even discover your company culture encourages conflict instead of rewarding employees for sharing their knowledge.

When you're busy juggling work and personal responsibilities, it's also tough to find time for networking. You may not have the bandwidth to drive to an after-work mixer or spend a Saturday attending workshops related to your industry.

Overcoming common challenges

Fortunately, there are several ways to overcome these challenges. First, make sure you maintain an active presence on social networks. You don't need to set up a TikTok account or start following people on Instagram, but you should have a LinkedIn profile with your professional background and achievements.

Once you have a strong online presence, start attending networking events in your area. Rather than limiting yourself to annual conferences or occasional seminars, participate in as many activities as possible, from Toastmasters meetings to lunch-and-learn events.

If you don't have a lot of time for networking, join two or three forums and start contributing content. Not only can you connect with potential mentors, sponsors and role models, but you can also use your forum posts to demonstrate your knowledge, industry expertise and written communication skills.

Actionable strategies to build and leverage mentorship and support networks

If you're ready to build a support network and leverage it for your success, follow these tips to find a mentor:

  • Think about the people you admire. Ask yourself what they have in common and how you might benefit from networking with them.
  • Send an email to one of those individuals. In a few sentences, introduce yourself and ask if they'd be willing to meet with you.
  • Keep your first meeting casual. Save your career questions for the end of the session.
  • Follow up via email, telephone calls or in-person meetings.
  • Maintain the relationship by providing regular updates about your progress, asking questions and thanking your mentor for their guidance.

Mentorship is just one aspect of creating a diverse support network. To build strong relationships with your peers, strive to create a positive work environment. Before you ask for help from others, share your experiences and knowledge. If you don't know the solution to a problem, encourage your peers and offer as much emotional support as you can.

When you attend networking events, put your best foot forward. Give each person a friendly greeting, ask plenty of questions and listen carefully to the answers. Focus on building relationships instead of waiting for your first opportunity to ask for career advice.

Understanding the value of mentorship

Mentorship is a valuable tool for personal and professional growth. By building a support network and seeking out mentorship opportunities, women can gain access to insider knowledge, practical advice and inspiration from those who have already succeeded in their industry. Mentorship isn't just for career advancement, but also about creating meaningful connections and continuously learning from others.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, take a moment to empower and support one another – whether you're guiding or being guided. Let today serve as a reminder to encourage women to embrace their talents and lead with passion, empathy, fairness and kindness. Celebrate every step of the journey and the strides made by women before you, while drawing inspiration from their resilience. Allow this to ignite your drive to work towards creating a more inclusive and empowering environment for the women who will follow in your footsteps.