Monday, June 25, 2007

The Oxygen Mentor Walk

Many years ago my father told me that one way to find the path to my dream career was to find someone who had already done what I wanted to do. And not just find anyone, but someone who had done the job well and was willing to tell me how they had gotten there. He was referring to a mentoring relationship, one of the most important relationships you can build to ensure a successful career.

On Tuesday morning I had the opportunity to participate in Oxygen’s Mentors walk in Washington DC. Oxygen’s mentors walk: Bringing Along the Next Generation is an event that brings high-profile women leaders from a variety of professions to walk--and talk--with other women who share their passion and dream of breaking into that field. The event registration asked applicants to identify their current role models and professional aspirations and then organizers used this information to match participants with mentors who have careers that align with the participants’ self-identified goals.

At the age of twenty-five I am fortunate to have some direction in my professional life. I shared my aspirations with Oxygen organizers writing a paragraph about my dream of running for national office and continuing to fight for women’s equality globally. You can only imagine my surprise and excitement when I learned that twelve-term Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder would be my mentor. Congresswoman Schroeder was a champion of women’s issues during her 24 years in the House and considered running for President in 1986 but withdrew for lack of funds despite being ranked third in the Time Magazine poll. Congresswoman Schroeder was not only a high powered politician but also a mother of two young children when she was elected to Congress.

After Congresswoman Schroeder introduced herself the walk began. I spent the next hour and a half, walking around the National Mall, speaking to the Congresswoman about her expertise on women in the military, her experience in the House, and listening to her describe her road to public office. I asked Congresswoman Schroeder if she always knew she wanted to be a politician. She laughed and explained that when she ran for office, there were few other women politicians to look up to or even imagine the career as a possibility. It was not her vision, but her leadership and strong sense of civic participation naturally lead her to the position. I could only think how lucky I am not only to have women leaders to look up to but also have the opportunity to make a personal connection with such a successful Congresswoman.

I also had the opportunity to walk with freshman Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Congresswoman Shea-Porter is the first woman elected to National Office from New Hampshire and is also a strong supporter of women’s rights. Ironically, Congresswoman Schroeder, was Congresswoman Shea-Porter’s representative many years earlier when both were residing in Colorado. Approximately ten Congresswomen, three Under-Secretary’s of State, and many other high powered success Washington women gave their time to participate in the Oxygen Walk.

The event was a success on many levels. Namely, for making the connection between young aspiring women and more experienced professional women. In my professional career I have had many mentors, most of them men. Women have frequently offered to guide me but parenting and the many volunteer activities most women are a part of often get in the way of building a solid relationship. Young women need mentors to help them navigate through the challenges we face in the workplace. This event was an excellent first step in that process. It is now the participants and mentors responsibility to foster those relationships and build real connections with likeminded women who are eager to promote the qualities that make women strong and successful leaders in all careers.

Finally, the young women who participated need to build synergistic relationships with each other. We are not only colleagues and friends, but advocates for each other. We need to share our positive and negative work experiences publicly, support women’s leadership in the companies and organizations we work for, and commit to mentoring the women who enter the workforce after us.