UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Mentors make the difference


CWIB Mentoring PanelFor women in business, a mentor can be the difference between moving up in a company and being stuck in the same job.

Panelists discussed how mentors have shaped their careers and how to form those relationships at the eighth annual Carolina Women in Business conference Nov. 8. The panelists were:

  • LaTonya O’Neal, senior manager at Deloitte
  • Courtney Quinn (MBA ’05), director of innovation at Liberty Mutual
  • Wendi Powell, global controls manager at ExxonMobil
  • Lauren Stump (BSBA ’98), director of organizational strategy at Burt’s Bees

Have a lot of mentors, be open and stand out. Find as many as possible, Powell said. While men often have many mentors, women tend to settle in with one. This focus can hurt your career since mentors can help with everything from work projects to selling you to the higher-ups in the company. And since many company leaders feel a responsibility to mentor upcoming talent, women should be open to the relationship. They also should make their work stand out, she said. “You can’t really get a sponsor without being the best out there.”

Do you ask? Sometimes you can ask someone to be your mentor, and sometimes the relationship just happens, O’Neal said. Asking tends to make the relationship more formal, and she took a while to build up the courage to ask someone to be her mentor. When Powell went to ExxonMobil, she picked the most senior people in her division and asked them to train her. This helped her to establish trust and form mentor relationships without the formality of requesting their mentorship. Some companies, like Deloitte, also have formal, structured mentor programs which can open doors for some. O’Neal said her experience with the program felt forced and she didn’t have a lot in common with her mentor.

Know the difference between a sponsor and a mentor. O’Neal stressed the differences. Mentors are people you trust completely and rely on to give you honest feedback. They often serve as a sounding board for ideas. Sponsors, on the other hand, are your advocates. They can open doors, which can make or break your career. Both mentor and sponsor relationships can last many years and span different jobs and careers. Having a mentor proved critical to Stump when she reached a point in her career where she didn’t know where to go next. Seeing someone succeed must also be at the heart of a mentor’s interest, Quinn said. “As a mentor, you just want to see them succeed.”

Make time for mentors. Set aside time for networking and forming mentor relationships, the panelists emphasized. Networking doesn’t come naturally to O’Neal, so she plans time for it.