If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants. -Sir Isaac Newton
“ ‘Mike, I will come work with you and be your assistant.’
‘You can come Julie, but as my associate and friend.’
My heart fills with gratitude when I remembers those words from a great leader, Mike Caslin, who mentored me and sponsored me professionally. Mike believes in servant leadership and felt that when the best leaders leave, people have full confidence they can do it themselves.
At a time when we want to advance more women and minorities in STEM careers, I ponder in hopes of replicating what did Mike do for me and so many others.
In 1992, I was having a bumpy transition from one of my first jobs at 21. At a conference, I learned of a growing movement to teach low-income children how to build their own businesses. Mike was a key consultant at the time to an organization called Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).
His office was over 65 miles from where I lived.
On our first meeting, Mike asked me to drive out to his office and stop on the way at the Boston Globe to secure three newspapers with a headline article on NFTE. The next day, he invited me to a meeting with him and four high level government officials 70 miles in the other direction.
I wanted to volunteer two days a week, but reflecting back, I cancelled interviews and never looked for another job, not for 20 more years. Initially there was no budget to hire me, I just knew this was the right mentor and the right course.
‘Trust in Your Mission, Trust in Your Team,’ Mike would say.
Later in advising on management he taught me the Ronald Reagan adage, ‘Trust and Verify,’ and we discussed Joseph Campbell’s hero path often.
My self-esteem was a bit low from some missteps I made in a corporate hierarchy, but Mike was oblivious to that, he wanted me to see myself as a leader. ‘Leaders lead, so lead,’ he would challenge. He had high expectations and sat with me at a shared computer to write proposals to start youth entrepreneurship programs in New Bedford.
Once funded, Mike selected our pilot to be the toughest alternative school in the region and me to be the teacher, he said ‘Great, now let’s train you to teach,’ and sent me through a week long certification training in NY. He also encouraged me to go to a student’s home and talk to her parents when she stopped coming to school.
I didn’t know where the path was taking me, but I followed my mentor and was open to where he led. Each day there was intensity, challenge, joy in the journey, and faith.
A few years later Mike had me training teachers in India and I became the youngest Executive Director at the age off 22 when Mike got a big national promotion. My salary was good and I felt we could change the world. I set up a new office closer to my home in Boston, no Mike there, now I had to fend for myself and grab coffees and inspiration with Mike when I could.
Mike and the Founder sent me to take over Washington, DC to build in 1995 and I started bringing in interns working to replicate Mike’s ‘belief in me’ style of management with sprinkles of high expectations and challenge to leave my professional comfort zone.
There were times in my career when I was at a crossroad or felt like drowning and Mike was always the one who showed me how to get back to shore.
Mike became our Executive Vice President and when Mike left after 20 years, he came to me in Washington and told me he wanted me to go for his job. He championed me and it led to some intense work with the Aspen Institute and to lead national leaders looking at scalability of youth entrepreneurship education in America. My heart soared in this great opportunity and growth.
So how do I thank Mike Caslin for the dozens of chapters in my book of life and the direction? For the belief in me (way before I believed in myself) and belief in the youth of our country?
I thank him with a challenge and a pledge to mentor five to ten women and men annually plus take on a few sponsees.”
– Julie, Founder and CEO, Twomentor
Julie Silard Kantor helps leaders build their living legacies through mentorship and sponsorship. She and her team at Twomentor, LLC are helping to build a much-needed mentoring revolution through thought living-legacy leadership work, mentor training, mentor culture building, Mentor Road Trip™ flash mentoring web sessions and more in many sectors. Two adages that drive her work are: 1] The people who mentor at your company are the people who drive retention at your company and 2] If you want more diversity (i.e. women in STEM), mentor and sponsor more diversely.
“You know someone has a positive impact on you when you can’t stop telling others about them. When I describe him to friends, colleagues, and even clients that I’m coaching, I start by saying, ‘Let me tell you about my favorite CEO to work with, Paul Cramer from the Lafayette Family YMCA’.
One might ask what makes him special, why do I go out of my way to tell others about him? Well not only does he have a refreshingly positive outlook on life, he also does something I rarely see in my part of the world, he treats everyone with respect. He acknowledges people in a way that makes them feel that they have purpose and he truly wants those around him to be their best selves.
As a woman, and even more so since I’ve become an entrepreneur, I find it difficult to find male allies that support me. This is what makes Paul’s approach unique.
He’s my client and I am as his HR Business Partner, which means we often must discuss challenging situations inside the organization. But no matter how much time we spend on solving important work-related issues, I have never left the conversation without him asking, ‘Kelly how’s the business going. How can I help support you? Are there any potential clients you would like me to reach and speak with the CEO?’ And sometimes he’ll even get out his pencil and pad of paper and start mapping out a plan for me.
In my opinion, this is a male ally. But I’m not the only one. I’ve watched him provide mentorship, coaching, and educational opportunities to the women that help lead his organization. I would like to say he does this because he understands the benefit of investing in his staff, and that is part of it, but as man who successfully embodies the YMCA’s culture of respect, responsibility, honesty, and caring, he knows that to lead an innovative and growing organization those values must be applied to all people.
I feel lucky to have connected with Paul and I will continue to sing his praises, so others know that male allies like him really do exist.”
– Kelly Pallanti, CEO and Founder, HR Nonprofit Consulting
Kelly Pallanti is a mission-driven HR consultant. She believes that people (humans) are the invaluable driver that advance the mission and values of an organization, and that HR should be there to support them. Her extensive work with YMCA has led her to work with over 500 Cause-Driven leaders by sharing her ‘Y Story.’ Kelly is Founder and CEO of HR Nonprofit Consulting.
“I am an equalist—and one able, feisty woman. I am proud to say that this is due in no small part to my male mentors and allies. I celebrate one in particular, LtCol Kevin Korpinen, who was Commanding Officer of my Marine Corps unit during my second deployment to Afghanistan. I was a rising Captain when I met him.
LtCol Kevin Korpinen did not have the makings of a feminist at first glance. As a prior reconnaissance-Marine-turned-air traffic control officer, most of his professional life had been spent with 18 to 20-something year old ‘dudes’ whose idea of a good time was running 10 miles in the pouring rain with 100 pounds on their back. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was a staunch feminist!
Once I joined his unit, I knew that this man would be one of the most important people in my life. I found that LtCol Korpinen was actually interested in finding answers to the challenges faced by women in the Marine Corps. When we discussed Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, he said, ‘I want you to teach our unit about that!’ What? A senior military officer wanted me to talk about gender parity, in front of Marines?!
LtCol Kevin Korpinen became my greatest champion, no matter the circumstances. He was a leader that made time to help me become a leader, despite criticism from his peers that it was not ‘professional’ to mentor a junior female officer. When I became a Uniformed Victim Advocate and educator about sexual assault in the military, he created opportunities for me to teach and made certain I had all the resources I needed to be the best one I could be. Most importantly, LtCol Korpinen made it clear that he believed the sky was the limit for me in this world.
I know that, without his insistence, support and mentorship, I would not be working at Facebook in a job I love. I would not have founded several Lean In Circles or be on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Museum of California. In short, without LtCol Korpinen, I would not be the equalist that I am today.”
– Susannah, Communications and Culture Manager
San Francisco, CA
Susannah Rose Stokes was born on a blueberry farm in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. At an early age, she discovered her drive to serve and decided to become a US Marine, graduating from the US Naval Academy as a Second Lieutenant in 2011. While in service to the country, she completed two deployments to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, advocated against sexual assault as a Uniformed Victim Advocate, and broke culture boundaries as a Family Readiness Officer. In 2016, Susannah made the exciting transition to Facebook, where she manages Communication and Culture initiatives for the Global Data Center team and leads Partnerships for the Facebook Veterans and Allies Resource Group. She is an active member of the Women’s Museum of California board of directors, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, and is passionate about promoting equalism around the world.
“At 19, I cold called the Associate Vice President of Development at Duke to ask him to hire me as a summer development intern – when there weren’t any job openings. That phone call to Bob Shepard changed my life. He hired me for the summer, hired me back the next summer and remains one of my most treasured mentors all these years later.
Today I am the Associate Vice President for Individual Giving at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I lead a team of 25 people who raise money for research, clinical care and programs at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world. As I started to think about how I may want to leverage my strengths and grow my career before making this most recent move, I sought Bob’s counsel. I talked about jobs that were one level above in the org chart and he listened and thoughtfully offered advice. During one of our conversations, he offhandedly said, ‘You know, I think you could be looking at AVP jobs, if you wanted to.’ I remember thinking in that moment how much his feedback meant to me. This was, after all, the role he had been in when I first met him – the job I wanted to have ‘someday’ – and he thought I was ready.
Women can tend to downplay our skills and accomplishments; we do not think of our own achievements as special compared to others. The value in Bob suggesting this idea to me is that I learned to consider it for myself, and what it really meant. It wasn’t about a title for me; it was the opportunity to lead an organization at the enterprise level with all the challenges and learning that came with it. My own thinking had been limiting me from doing exactly what I wanted to do and Bob reminded me of my strengths.
Throughout my career, Bob has been a sounding board, an advocate and a sponsor. From the very beginning, he took a chance on me. He challenges me to think broader and bigger, sharing his insights while encouraging me to follow my own path. Bob is the kind of person who says great things about me to other people when I am not there. He believed in me and I learned to believe in myself.”
– Shanna Hocking, Associate Vice President, Individal Giving, Children’s Hospital of Philadephia
Shanna Hocking writes about leadership and fundraising and has been featured in Forbes and Huffington Post. Learn more about Shanna’s exemplary work at www.shannaahocking.com
“In 2003, I walked into the office of a senior leader at one of India’s leading Information Technology organisations in the city of Bangalore. I was a young leadership and management development facilitator aiming for a big job.
Back then, gender diversity and equality weren’t popular terms, and men weren’t being called upon to support women as they are now. Plus, I didn’t know the importance of a male ally in a male dominated world for a woman.
I found myself sitting in front of an unassuming, calm and approachable person. He sat behind a wooden desk and with team photographs and trophies lined on shelves all across a wall. He smiled reassuringly at me, and I instantly felt comfortable.
That was Selvan; head of a large training team that undertook a range of people development programs and projects for our global organisation. At the end of my interview, he walked down a set of stairs with me, asked if I wanted lunch and then led me to the nearest on-campus café. He even made a menu suggestion! Selvan then explained and wrote out directions to get to my final HR interview. This gesture of thoughtfulness and care has always stayed with me as one of his great leadership qualities.
I got selected and stayed on for six years with the organisation, and Selvan remained the head of our team and my skip level manager through that time. I can confidently say that his mentorship steered my career in a far better direction than if I had met a leader who didn’t focus on crafting a young woman’s career and providing her support and guidance through those crucial years.
Selvan shared his intention to be a mentor and sponsor right from the start. We would often meet in our pantry, and instead of nodding and moving on with his coffee, he always had a question to ask. Through these frequent and informal interactions I grew in my confidence to be myself and not try to fit in.
While he was my manager’s manager, he never talked down, patronised or brushed away a concern, instead, he was a great listener. Selvan truly had an open door policy. He engaged in a way that I knew I could walk in and talk to him. This helped me understand how things worked, which in the natural course of male dominated corporate life, rarely happens for a young woman starting out.
Selvan always pushed me to think bigger and not hesitate to share brave ideas about how I saw my career growing. I now understand the significance of those conversations much better.
Another great leadership value I saw exemplified in Selvan was his sense of fairness. He made sure I got my due credit even when I would be the most junior person in a task force to have contributed. Instead of ignoring my share, he paid close attention to the quality of my work and I always knew how I was doing and what I could do better. To have merit, initiative and competence rewarded in this manner proved crucial for my future career.
I hope this story helps someone identify if they have a male ally in their lives. Selvan has set a high bar for me ever since on how I engage with men. I’ve used his example several times as I’ve taught leadership skills across levels over the years.”
– Sonali D’silva, Founder and Principal Consultant, Equality Consulting
Sonali D’silva is author of Corporate Nirvana and is in the process of writing her second book ‘25 Practices of Inclusive Leaders‘. Sonali has spent two decades of her career in leadership and management development; her current work involves helping organisations build Inclusive Leaders, expand the influence of women leaders, and involve men in Gender Equality efforts.
“I like to tell people when they work with me, they are getting a ‘two-for’. I’m a Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. My husband, Todd Saxton, also teaches at the Kelley School, as a Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. On many projects, we are both involved – either formally or behind the scenes: we are true partners in that we share ideas and seek the other person’s input. Most people and projects then, get both of our ideas, rather than just one person’s.
Todd is an ally in many ways. I am lucky to have him. He watched the struggles his mother faced in her generation, and can spot inequality early. Metaphorically, if I’m pushing a stone up hill, he’ll push with me… or will back up when I say, ‘I need to do this myself’ and be my biggest cheerleader. We have listened to ‘Lean In’ together. But, he also holds my feet to the fire. If I am being biased against other women (hey – we are all human), he’ll call me out on it. We make each other accountable for advocating for women and minorities.
One role Todd plays very well is anticipating and raising issues on my behalf if needed. The research shows that if a woman or minority engages in gender/ethnicity balancing, they are penalized. But, men gain respect when they advocate. If I raise a statistic or gap about women’s representation, for example, it may land with certain stakeholders as, ‘There goes Kim again.’ But Todd recognizes the situations in which his voice could hold more influence, and proactively addresses issues head-on. He will say things like, ‘What are we doing to support the women?’ Or, ‘we all know that these performance metrics may be gender biased…’
When I’m happy and successful, Todd is too. Said differently, he doesn’t sacrifice himself to help me. He helps me when doing so is something that brings him happiness and in his best interests. That way, he never resents the help he’s given. Our ‘two-for’ partnership shows how gender equality can greatly amplify the impact we make in our careers.”
– Kim, Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
“I had a great boss, Shawn, when I worked as a Technical Consultant in Market Research at Eli Lilly. Shawn did two things very well: he knew how to navigate the company culture to build influence, and he showed his advocacy through a behavior I call signaling.
Shawn hired me to create change by developing the technical expertise in marketing and market research for the organization. If you value a person, you want to make them successful; at Eli Lilly, they highly valued pedigree. When Shawn introduced me, he used my full name and credentials, leading with “This is Kim Saxton, she has a BS from MIT and her MBA/PhD in marketing and statistics from IU.” In doing so, he was setting me up for success immediately among the senior team and other staff.
He would also display a powerful behavior, signaling. When I was to serve as his delegate at a meeting, he’d go in with his coffee cup, say hi to those already there, and then leave as the meeting began. Everyone then knew that I was his delegate. Then as any initiative was getting started, he would introduce me and let me run the meeting or presentation. One initiative, he set up 33 presentations that I managed on his behalf. The intentionality he showed certainly reinforced his commitment to me, and to his overall role as an advocate.
Shawn and I had a great working relationship. This was in the pre-laptop days. As a technical consultant within Lilly, I was working with 10 different brand teams and on several organization-wide initiatives. We had a big presentation on one initiative to the top management team – the top 13 executives at Lilly. Shawn came in over the weekend to help me prep the final presentation. But, he was color-blind. So, as we were changing graphics on the slides, he would ask me which color – which row and column? When I finally took a vacation and came back, he noted, ‘Holy moly. I had to get on your computer to find a file. I was shocked. I had no idea how much you’d been working! I’m glad that so many teams are asking for your help. Thank you for just taking it all in stride.’
It seemed like a win-win-win situation. He helped me be successful, he made the organization better, and he demonstrated how to be a great male ally.”
– Kim, Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
“Finding male allies and mentors is a challenge for women. However, once you do strike gold and find them, it is key to remain engaged with them in the long term, throughout your career.
I’ve been lucky enough over the course of my own career to find many male mentors and allies. And, I love working with them as well on projects that have a larger impact and outcomes.
One recent example of this long-term engagement happened when I lucked out and struck up a mentor in my former business school dean, Dr. David Borst. Although I graduated several years ago now from Concordia University Wisconsin, he recently also retired as dean. We had the opportunity to chat and figure out how to collaborate on a bigger project, now that he had more time to dedicate to something broader reaching.
As someone who had additionally set up a women’s mentoring program in his hometown of Milwaukee, WI (he calls it an ‘advisory board’), we decided it would be important to collaborate on a book project that describes how to set up a mentoring program for women – through the lens of a male perspective (his) and mine as a woman.
The S(He) Says Guide to Mentoring was born in the spring of 2017. It is a his and hers perspective on setting up women’s mentoring programs.
Once the book was launched, I attended his women’s advisory board and we shared our story of the book and the collaboration. He held a fire side chat and book launch in Milwaukee later that evening, where we chatted from a his and hers perspective about the value of mentoring women, male allies and collaboration.
We also had each other on our respective radio show/podcast to discuss the collaboration. Dr. Borst’s radio show is on the air in Milwaukee, where I appeared as a guest about the book, and I had him as a guest on a podcast that I co-host about career development, The Pharmacy Podcast.
I also had Dr. Borst come to Indianapolis, my hometown, where I serve as president for a nonprofit association, The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, Indiana Chapter. Dr. Borst moderated a panel of all men — we called them “Manbassadors” — to discuss why and how to mentor women in healthcare and life sciences.
In the end, on this project, my mentor became my peer in many respects (although I certainly still consider him a mentor). And more than a dozen years after b school for me, I have the pleasure and honor of remaining connected to Dr. Borst.
No woman is an island, and we need to continue to engage and foster long term, collaborative partnerships with our mentors and allies. I appreciate his time and talent, and most of all the opportunity to share an idea with and through him to a wider audience.”
– Erin, Author, The “S(He) Says Guide to Mentoring”
Erin Albert, MBA, PharmD, JD is an author, entrepreneur, pharmacist, lawyer and podcaster. She has authored over 20 books, which can be found at her website, www.erinalbert.com.
Dr. Borst also has a website, www.borstthebrand.com.
“One kind of ally is a sponsor. I speak a lot about how sponsors are critical to help push your career forward. I’m the Founder of #GoSponsorHer, a campaign for leaders to play an active and intentional role in the success of high-potential women. I’ve personally been inspired and supported by many strong sponsors — both men and women — I’ve had in my career at McKinsey and at integrate.ai.
Today I want to focus less on my sponsors and more on a different kind of ally in my life, in fact the most important ally in my life who supports every step of the work I do – my fiancée, Mike. We had the benefit of starting our relationship together, on equal footing, at university. We were both highly ambitious students, majoring in business and supporting each other through interviews. He went into investment banking, I went into consulting; first as interns and then full-time.
Early in our relationship we experienced the extremes of one partner having significant demands at work. We first went through it as Mike worked his job in investment banking; though the hours I put in at my consulting firm were high they were not as crazy as his so I did more of ‘the lift’ in our personal lives — making sure our lives together ran smoothly in every other element besides career.
Then we experienced a shift: Mike made a career change that gave him more time and flexibility and I got promoted at McKinsey making me busier than ever. Accordingly, Mike started taking on the role of doing more of the lift at home. It has just always worked that way with us; we are very clear on where we both are in a given week, month or year in terms of demands on our time and energy in order to make the rest of our lives work. We take turns.
We’re both good at knowing what the other needs, whether it’s a pep talk, and/or sympathy. Hopefully that is what a good sponsor or mentor also does for you: they know when you need a kick in the pants, or, a little bit of sympathy… I think a relationship should do the same… though we humans tend to be less good at doing that for people we love: we tend to over-index toward sympathy or tough love.
Mike and I together maintain two killer careers, a network of family and friends and a house. All of those things contribute to a huge pie. Sharing the pie 50/50 is tricky given that the proportions are always shifting and someone always ends up needing to do more of the grunt work at any given time. Mike and I are explicit about those shifts and explicit about who is taking the lead on the Homefront at any given time. It’s been amazing to have a partner who is, quite frankly, willing to do that, because you look at the research and it always says that no matter who has the successful career, the woman is doing more at home. If we are going to make real change, we have to allow men to change too — they needn’t carry the traditional pressures being the sole partner with a career.
If we are going to level the playing field, our efforts in the corporate environment must extend to home life. I am so grateful to have found a partner like Mike who cares just as much about supporting my career and my passions as I do his.”
– Megan Anderson, Business Development Director, integrate.ai
Megan Anderson is the co-founder of #GoSponsorHer. a social campaign to accelerate the sponsorship of high-potential women in Canada and beyond. She created the project out of a deep desire to empower the next generation of Female CEOs and break the glass ceiling for good. #GoSponsorHer has enlisted an expansive network of both male and female allies who are sponsoring women at their organizations. If your your or organization would like to participate, please check out www.gosponsorher.com!