Maria and Sarah’s story
Maria was a mentee, and Sarah was a mentor, on the Mentoring Women in Business programme from 2020-2021.
Nigeria & USA
Sarah works at Blackstone in the USA. A few months ago she graduated as a mentor on the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mentoring Women in Business programme, completing her year-long relationship with mentee Maria (pictured below), who is based in Nigeria. Sarah caught up with us to share her experiences on the programme.
Why become a mentor?
“As a woman in technology I have always felt passionate about encouraging other women to pursue a career in tech. The tech sector is a male dominated industry and because of that I think a lot of women feel intimidated to pursue any opportunities.. Having been through the experience myself I wanted to break the barriers for other women. Above all, that was the biggest reason I wanted to be a mentor.
I think mentoring is a very important tool to do that, because a lot of women don’t have that support system and it can difficult to come from the outside and navigate the unknowns. I myself have benefitted from male mentors but I’d always wished for a female mentor; I think women mentors can help provide that balance of work and professional life. There were very few women in technology when I was growing up and though that’s changing there’s still a long way to go.
So I saw the Mentoring Women in Business Programme and thought: this is the perfect opportunity to share my experience with other women.”
“When I first joined the programme I was very impressed. The training for mentors was super helpful, it gave me an insight of how to communicate effectively with my mentee. It showed me how to overcome problems and how to have a productive, impactful and meaningful relationship.
I was very impressed with my mentee, Maria, from the first minute. I had been worried I wouldn’t be matched with anyone; I don’t have much experience in business and I didn’t think there’d be many women entrepreneurs looking for help with technology. But Maria was great, she’d given up a successful career in modelling in order to start a business training hostesses. When the pandemic started her business really struggled, so she came to the programme needing help setting up a website, creating a platform, creating online training videos. I was so pleased because I felt that my skills were well suited to the areas Maria needed help in, we were well matched.”
Connecting across the miles
“That initial connection carried over to our meetings. One thing I really liked about Maria is that she would always check in ahead of a meeting to ensure I was still available. She was very mindful of my schedule, she was diligent and well organised throughout. We were still able to keep things relaxed, we worked around our schedules and set up a bi-weekly cadence. We were mindful of each other’s timings and managed to make alterations to make meetings happen. It came down to an openness on my side and a flexibility on her side.
I told her early on that beyond these meetings she could reach out to me whenever. If there were ever gaps in our meetings I would let her lead and schedule the meetings, I gave her space, it’s all about her journey and what she wants.
Maria’s objectives around technology remained the primary goals throughout her time on the programme. What changed was that Maria had to get another job in order to support herself. This meant that we had to work to adapt our goals and redefine what success was in the programme, in the end she was happy with the journey and I was really happy with the progress she made. Maria did a really great job juggling different priorities: she was in the programme, she was working and she was doing other online training as well!”
Support systems in place
“The support system has also been great, support was always readily available whenever I or Maria has needed help. I always felt confident that someone would be there to support me if necessary. And when communication struggled a few months ago the team was at hand very quickly to bring Maria and I back into a good routine and flow.”
The inspiration and the growth
“Working with Maria really inspired me. Just to see someone who was a successful model pursue a completely different career just because she wants to make a difference in the world. She’s put in so much effort to digitising her business and building her website. She had an interest in technology and she really wanted to learn herself instead of outsourcing that process. I was very inspired by her.
I think I’ve benefitted a lot from this programme and my relationship with Maria. I’ve developed skills in organising people, project management, and holding people accountable. Because of COVID-19, Maria was entering a whole new field without experience, so we had to make sure we set realistic goals that she could actually accomplish. Setting goals and managing expectations are definitely things I’m now better at because of the programme.
This is the first time I’ve been able to mentor someone so this is something now I can extend to my day-to-day job. I work with a lot of junior developers and this experience has shown me how to mentor those developers in my team.
I came to this programme because of Blackstone. As a company they encourage their employees to volunteer and participate in these programmes, they’ve been a great support system. I didn’t know anything about the Mentoring Women in Business Programme and it was only through Blackstone I was able to hear about it and apply. The whole thing has been great and I’m really glad I did it.”
“If I was speaking to a new mentor on the programme I would tell them to listen to their mentee, understand what they want and give them the space that they need. Be mindful of their time and truly try to help them out with what they need. It’s all about trust.
I would love to be a mentor again; if there are other women who need help with technology I want to be there to help!”
Find out more about our Mentoring Women in Business programme
Mentoring Women in Business is one of the Foundation's three flagship programmes, which also include HerVenture and the Road to Growth. The programme matches women entrepreneurs from low and middle income countries with professionals of any gender anywhere in the world.
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