by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 01 June 2007)
I have mentioned before that women do not see power as a vertical ladder like most men do. Women see power in a horizontal direction that can be spread to those around her and can continue from those she touches until a web of leadership strength is created from the centre.
There has been a lot of talk recently about women who decide to quit their very successful business careers. One reason women give for stepping down is that the web of leadership can be very taxing on the person in the middle. Another reason is that women simply do not find the power struggle of the corporate world – or even corporate success - very satisfying.
In response to this new phenomenon of women excusing themselves from their successful endeavours to seek other more gratifying goals, another very womanly idea has been born to counteract any loss of women in the workplace. A new mentoring program has started that places women from developing countries under the tutorage of powerful corporate women in America.
I read about this new program in The Huffington Post, a cutting edge online newspaper that is owned and operated by one of the most successful female print journalists of our time, Arianna Huffington. The program, called the Fortune/U.S. State Department Mentoring Partnership: Vital Voices, was started by the woman who has overseen Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Business" cover package since 1998 and a couple high ranking women in the U.S. government.
According to the Huffington Post article by Pattie Sellers from May 29 entitled, “The Power of Women,” the purpose of the program is to bring young women from developing countries to spend three weeks with 32 top corporate America female executives -- all participants of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.
According to the article, “Avon CEO Andrea Jung hosted Archana Surana, a bold entrepreneur from India. ADM chief executive Pat Woertz hosted Phurbu Tsamchu, who owns Tibet Snow Leopard Carpets Ltd. and runs an orphanage for 30 children in Tibet. Other mentors included the most senior women at Avaya, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Raytheon, Exxon Mobil, Nielsen, Herman Miller, Pitney Bowes, ING, State Farm, Motorola, and law firms Skadden Arps and Latham & Watkins.”
What did these female executives do with their mentees? “Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore took Mei Jingsong, a manager at Sina.com in Beijing, to meetings in Boston and to the swishy Time 100 party. Some mentors -- Solera Capital CEO Molly Ashby, UnitedHealth Group exec Jacqueline Kosecoff, Wells Fargo EVP Kathleen Vaughan -- invited their mentees to their homes for weekend stays. Xerox chief Anne Mulcahy took Rashmi Tawari, her mentee from India, to Cleveland for customer and employee meetings, arranged a reception in her honor with Rochester's Indian community, and made sure that Rashmi got to know Xerox's other women leaders such as President Ursula Burns and Chief Technology Officer Sophie Vandebroek.”
This article inspired me because this Mentoring Partnership is the type of program that comes perfectly normal for women leaders. Women leaders do not hoard power; they share it with hopes that they can teach others how to be successful too.
There are women all around us who are rising stars and need a mentor to help them reach their full potential. Take for example the ever-increasing number of women graduating from UG ready to take on the world. These young ladies deserve an opportunity to spend some time learning from the successful women of Guyana.
And Guyana has plenty of successful women to act as mentors. There are female business owners, judges, Ministers of government, politicians, media workers, activists, lawyers, teachers, and so on. If each woman in Guyana took it upon herself to mentor at least one young lady a year, the outcome could be spectacular - and might be one answer to Guyana’s persistent brain drain.
For example, I am a female columnist, but there are very, very few of us in Guyana - far too few. In fact, it is an absolute shame that women do not have more of a voice in the newspapers of Guyana. It is not as if women do not have an opinion on a wide variety of matters.
Likewise, it is not as if women do not have the capacity to express those opinions in a comprehensive and concise manner. What is lacking is opportunity and encouragement. I think Dem Boys are just wonderful, but shouldn’t Dem Gyals get a chance to say something too?
As mothers, we teach our daughters how to cook, clean and nurture their children, but how many of us have taught our daughters how to run a successful business, argue a case before a judge or fight for a just cause as a politician? We don’t think twice about teaching the boys such things, but society tends to think the girls cannot handle such intellectually arduous activities.
This mentality is pure nonsense imbedded into our culture through thousands of years of patriarchal rule – and it is time to change it. Which is why women in positions of leadership need to take the time to mentor young women to be just as successful as they are – or more.
If we do this right, when we are ready to retire from our jobs, there will be 20 women ready to easily step into our shoes. I might decide to pick apart political clowns until the day I die, but I want to know that when my voice is gone there is another woman capable of exposing the political gibberish and defending the rights of the people.