Laura Petrolino

Why Female Communicators Need to Have—and Be—Mentors

By: Laura Petrolino | March 9, 2020 | 
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women mentorsWomen need women to succeed. That’s a fact.

It’s researched, it’s proven, it’s verified.

And yet, woman-to-woman mentorship STILL doesn’t exist for many.

A 2011 LinkedIn study found that while 82% of women said mentorship was important, one in five women never had a female mentor.

Likewise, a DDI World study found 63% of women never had a mentor.

Last year, when I first developed the idea to write this article as part of an International Women’s Day tribute, I imagined I’d be flooded with responses about women mentors who changed the trajectory of careers.

Sadly, that was not the case.

I had to go out and really search for them.

This made me super sad, so I promised myself then I’d replicate it yearly and strive to salute more women each year.

So here we are, year two and I am excited to share a bunch of women tributes with you.

But we need more.

There will never be enough women helping other women.

Women Mentors Matter

I am amazingly fortunate. I’ve had several extremely significant women mentors (as well as a handful of men).

Any success I’ve had in my career is because of these people.

They shaped me into the professional I am today.

Unfortunately, what I found is I’m an outlier.

And so many women leaders, people I respect deeply, did not have women mentors along their journey.

This is terribly sad to me. And so before I even begin this article I’m putting out a call to arms to every woman communicator reading this (myself included).

Let’s all come back next year for International Women’s Day with a list of women (young, old, and at all stages of their careers) who we have mentored or supported in some way.

Until we start helping each other be successful, we can’t expect anyone else to.

Let’s stop letting each other down.

Woman-to-Woman Mentoring: The Facts

Women make up over half the population.

Men named John make-up less than two percent of the population.

And yet, men named John outnumber women among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms.

In fact, there are four men named John, Robert, William, or James for every woman leader in the S&P.

Ouch.

Women face what many refer to as a “leaky pipeline” when it comes to their career trajectory.

The amount of well-educated and talented women who enter the workforce is disproportionately larger than those who advance to senior positions.

A 2017 study by Egon Zehinder found that 74% of women early in their career aspire to reach executive levels in their organization, but that drops to 57%  as they progress to a more senior level.

And only half (54%) of women feel they have access to senior leaders who could act as mentors in their careers.

#MeToo and Mentorship Declines

Here is where things get tricky and why women mentors are now more important than ever.

Previously one huge asset for women trying to break into leadership roles was men.

Male mentors helped support, guide, and coach women to reach levels previously void of them.

Unfortunately, while the #MeToo movement has helped women in many ways, it’s also created a situation where men, and especially men in leadership positions, are nervous about working closely with women.

A study from Leanin.org and Survey Monkey found close to half of male managers were no longer comfortable participating in work activities with women, including mentorship.

The number of male managers who feel uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled.

This means one in six is now hesitant to mentor women.

Women need to step up.

The Women Mentors In My Life

I knew I had been lucky. I had no idea how lucky.

While I’ve never had a “formal mentor”, I’ve had countless women who have served that role for me, in big ways and small.

My first mentor was my mom.

I could fill several blog posts talking about my mother and all she taught me.  All she STILL teaches me. Every day.

Endless lessons I’ve carried throughout my professional career.

But one thing that always stands out how she showed me you can be strong and empathetic at the same time. I wrote a bit more about that HERE

You can have compassion but still be assertive and fierce.

Lead in a way that brings everyone up, versus pushes people down.

I’m still perfecting this delicate dance, but my mother is the ultimate pro.

My First Female Boss

My first significant woman manager came the summer of my sophomore year in college.

I went to DC for an internship. A big girl internship.

Lisa Reynolds was my manager for the summer. She seemed like a superhero to me.

Lisa represented everything I wanted to be professionally. She was strong and confident, respected, and driven.

She kicked booty and took names, but in a way that came across as assertive and in control, not obnoxious.

I will forever remember one evening.

During a trip for an event, there was a rare slow moment and she took me aside and told me she was impressed with me.

She said I had a lot of potential and she knew I’d be successful in the field.

To have a woman I respected so much say something so encouraging to me was like a fairytale.

Her confidence in me helped me through a lot of really rough spots early in my career.

Times when everyone (including myself) doubted me.

It also set the tone for my career in general.

To start out my professional life with a fierce, intelligent, and talented woman as a role model was a gift.

A Career of Mentors

Since Lisa, I’ve had a career full of exceptional women mentors.

Women, like Elizabeth Wells Verrill, who treated me as equals (even though in most cases they were my manager), empowered me to trust my instincts, and drive projects or plans (often well beyond my skill or experience level), and encouraged me to take risks and push my comfort zones.

I even count several of our clients as amazing women mentors.

And obviously, I’m very lucky to currently work with a woman who teaches me so much in everything from leadership to how to balance being both an exceptional mother and business owner.

Without these women, my career would be in a very different place. I can never fully express my gratitude.

Why Are There So Few Women Mentors?

So the question then becomes, why are there so few women mentorship relationships?

The DDI World study pinpoints three top reasons:

  1. Women don’t ask other women to be mentors.
  2. Lack of time on the part of the mentor.
  3. Women don’t feel they have an appropriate level of expertise to mentor.

I sadly have to admit I’m exhibit A for the first and the third.

I never asked for a formal mentor, just have been lucky to have women serve that role informally.

But had I not essentially won the professional lottery, I’d have missed out.

And on the opposite end, the big reason I’ve never BEEN a mentor is I don’t feel I’m good enough to do it.

I think to myself: I’m not <talented, successful, experienced> enough to be a mentor for anyone.

Even just writing about it right now gives me this feeling of anxiety that everyone reading is going to laugh and roll their eyes that I’d have the nerve to even suggest I could be a mentor to another woman.

Over half of the women surveyed believe that, as well.

The topic of self-worth is an entirely different blog post.

But we all need to sit in our “never good enough” corners and think about how our behavior is affecting us as an entire gender.

Your Women Mentors

I asked women in our community, many who serve the role as informal and formal mentors for many women (myself included),  to share stories of women mentors who affected their careers.

Here is what they said.

Teach, Mentor, Empower

Kathleen Lucente, CEO & Founder of Red Fan Communications:

One of the early mentors in my career was Andrea “Andy” Cunningham, while I was working in Boston at Cunningham Communications, now Cunningham Collective. The way Andy built a business was impressive to me, and she would inspire me to start my own agency, years later, where my team and I continue to take inspiration from her and the multiple books she’s written. “Get to AHA” was one of the favorite books our agency book club read together, and I was so happy to share her with them and have her experiences resonate with my staff.

Kelsey Jenkins, Public Relations Consultant at KJ Public Relations:

Bianca Doria was my first manager right out of college and has shown me everything I aspire to be as a leader and woman in comms, all the while being genuinely invested in my growth and success. 

Women Encouraging Women to Succeed

Sharon Rosenblatt, Director of Communications at Accessibility Partners:

I’m grateful for my work mentor, Dana Marlowe. She has mentored me with communication, business, and public relations skills in my early years at Accessibility Partners, but most of my true career benefit came from her accommodations for my mental health disability. Struggling with PTSD, Dana taught me the value of being flexible and patient with myself, but still pushing me to follow through on work deadlines through the power of an alternative work schedule and a new way to do things.

Together, we created a new blog for our company, and she gave me the reigns to blog about the frontiers of mental health in technology, and its intersection with physical disability, which proved ultimately therapeutic for me as well. Her mentorship helped me find a voice and confidence that isn’t necessarily taught in college. It’s helped me move past what used to give me anxiety, and with that solid footing from her encouragement, I have already exceeded my own personal expectations. I am grateful for the experience, and pleased to report we are ramping up our 2018 mentorship program, and I’ll have the opportunity to be a mentor this time.

First a Boss, Forever a Friend

Amanda Holdsworth, Director of Public Relations and Brand Strategy at Reink Media:

My amazing female mentor is my former boss, Mary Ann Burns. We met in 2004 when I was hired to work at Six Flags New England and still, to this day, she is one of the most creative communicators I have ever met in my career. Coming from a pure PR background, I was clueless when it came to marketing, events and advertising, and she patiently taught me the ropes. She also gave me credit for my ideas and work when presenting to the higher-ups and when we had a major crisis, she always made sure to thank me for everything I was doing and checked in with me to ensure I was okay (I was young and the crisis was extremely difficult). No one else in the organization did, and I’ll be eternally grateful for how she not only taught me how to masterfully handle a crisis, but how to be an empathetic leader.
To this day, we still bounce ideas off of one another despite not having worked together (or even lived in the same state) for about 15 years. I am also lucky enough to call her one of my best friends.

Boss, Client, Mentor

Lauren Reed, CEO at Reed Public Relations:

My mentor is Hannah Paramore, founder of Paramore Digital and author of “Business Ownership: The Joy. The Pain. The Truth”. I first met her when her agency handled digital for a tourism authority and we handled the PR. When I started my agency, she was my first client. Additionally, she taught me everything she knew about running an agency and has been there for me the past 7.5 years to laugh, cry, celebrate, and everything in between. I’m so grateful for Hannah and I’ve always felt so lucky to have her support because she is one of the few people in my life who says the things I need to know but don’t always want to hear.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Heather LeFevre, Brand Consultant (posthumous salute):

There is no more international woman than Melinda Eskell. She took me under her wing when she assumed the role of managing director for StrawberryFrog Amsterdam. Her career crossed Sydney, London, and Amsterdam and I saw her rock a room in probably ten different countries while I worked with her. She was what you most wish for from a mentor: encouraging, clever, charming, fun. She passed in 2014 but I still carry her with me, wondering how she might handle a situation or approach a challenge. I am so grateful to you, Melinda.

Friend, Cheerleader, Mentor

Kim Sigelman, Digital Marketing Consultant JRW PR &Marketing:

I’ve been lucky enough to have had my career, not just supported but launched, by a strong, smart, supportive, and all-around remarkable woman, Jen Wilbur, founder of JRW PR & Marketing, Inc. Friends first, she reached out to me when I was at a career crossroads and asked for my help with a client. Over the past six years, Jen has not only employed me, she’s encouraged me to forge my path, allowing me to hone my skills and take ownership of many projects along the way. The bonus is that she’s human and expects us to be human, too, and she does it all with a laugh. I had no idea that one phone call so many years ago would have led to a lifelong friend turning into my biggest cheerleader and mentor.

Mentors Who Support…No Matter What

Jennifer McGinley, CEO, JLM Strategic Communications:

My mentor is my former boss Barbara L’Amoreaux. Barb was patient, respectful, honest, motivating, and she often pushed me out of my comfort zone to help me become a better PR professional. I will never forget when she came back to work late one night with her new baby in tow. I had an important media training the next day and I somehow deleted the presentation. She came all the way back to the office to support me. We are still close to this day. She is always there whenever I need her with advice and support.

Moms, You Are Your Daughters’ First Woman Mentor

Hannah Matthews, Account Executive at WE Codeword:

My mom, Tessa White. Although cheesy, my mom is an HR exec with 25+ years experience who raised me and my two brothers as a single mom, while working more than full time. She is such an amazing mom by example, as well as my greatest business mentor. She taught me how to be outspoken, how to be a woman in the business world and how to be independent. 

Women Mentor Moms

Katherine Barnard, CEO of Firesign:

Laura Click has been an invaluable mentor and friend over the past year. We became acquainted at the beginning of my pregnancy; her son is about two years older than my now-nine-month-old. Pregnancy and maternity leave are strange situations when you’re an agency owner, and Laura was an absolute ballast for me. She listened, she helped me plan for maternity leave, and she offered great advice. Now, on the other side of maternity leave, she continues to inspire me as she tries new projects with her business.

Mentors Create Mentors

Lisa Nickerson, CEO and Founder of Nickerson PR:

This International Women’s Day, I’d like to thank one of my biggest mentors, Candy O’Terry. As a longtime radio host, Candy has been very helpful coaching me on how to speak on radio and podcasts. Candy is a great connector, ally, and friend. We both share the same mission: uplifting women with careers in media and communications. She has helped me meet other women in the field, and it is a privilege to sit beside her on the board of Boston Women in Media and Entertainment. The more that we support each other as women in the industry and the more we offer a helping hand to each other, the stronger we all are. Candy embodies this through her leadership in Boston Women in Media and Entertainment. Everybody that Candy surrounds herself with is of the same philosophy—the belief in empowering other women. It is a privilege to be a part of furthering this mission that Candy believes in so much.

Your Turn!

What women served as mentors for you? How have they changed your career?

Share your story below or in our Spin Sucks community.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.