Monday, October 19, 2009

Women In Business Mentorship Program

Lately, I’ve been feeling like business school is exploiting all of my weaknesses, so I wanted to post something that focuses on the positive.

Before I started school, I conducted a 360 degree feedback survey to identify both my strengths and weaknesses. One of the abilities I would have liked to have ranked higher on was Influencing Others. I believe this is a must-have quality for any leader, so the mid-level rating I received for this ability won’t do. I’ve seen myself lose steam advocating my ideas or those of others before, and the fact that others have noticed this too, gives me motivation to change.

I got my first opportunity to improve my persuasion skills as the co-chair of the Babcock Women in Business mentorship program. My co-chair, Vaishali, and I were tasked with four objectives: 1) identify women in the graduate business school who wanted mentors, 2) find mentors to match them with 3) design a mentorship program 4) host two workshops a year on the mentoring process.

When I was told this summer that we needed to find a speaker for our first workshop, I immediately thought of Kathy Korman Frey. She’s a professor at George Washington University’s business school and an expert on female leadership issues. Kathy also founded the Hot Mommas Project, a social enterprise that raises the self-efficacy of women and girls through exposure to role models.

I’ve been following Kathy on Twitter and her blog for several months and was jazzed about bringing her in to speak at Wake Forest. When I found out our budget for the event and her speaking fee, I saw a problem…and an opportunity.The problem was obviously the lack of funds, but I had the opportunity to influence others to supply those needed funds. I thought about the other student organizations that might be interested in utilizing Kathy’s knowledge on entrepreneurship and started chatting them up. Then, I thought about the lack of women in our program and how the admissions office might want to support an event like this that shows our school cares about helping women succeed. Vaishali had also developed a relationship with the Career Management Center and knew mentorship had become a significant priority forDean Steve Reinemund.

Our first attempt at selling this event to CMC was met with a luke warm response. The reason for bringing this particular speaker had to be put into perspective. I presented some research I had written an article about in my job as managing editor of the McCombs School of Business alumni magazine. It showed that women with mentors made less than men with mentors and that women with mentors make more than men without mentors. Now, our CMC partner is using this research in speeches he gives about the dean’s mentorship initiative, and his office is funding the other half of the event, along with the Admissions Office who was all for helping out from the start.

So what did I do to change my influencing abilities? I spent more time considering how the issue would be viewed from the other person’s perspective and sold the idea accordingly. In the past, I focused more on my point of view on why a certain idea was good and not as much on how benefits could be interpreted by others.

I’ll admit that even though school has been getting me down the last few weeks, I can at least look back and see that I’m growing from these experiences. In the last two months, I’ve probably had more opportunities to work on my weaknesses than I had in my four years of work experience. It’s a severe shock to the system, but perhaps if I celebrate these small successes it will give me motivation to keep confronting the mounting workload and overcome the discomfort I feel so often in everyday situations. This is what it takes to get an MBA.

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