Joy-Marie Lawrence (above) is an entrepreneur from Cape Town, South Africa, who runs a business consultancy firm. She recently took part in the Foundation’s Mentoring programme as a mentee, learning from her mentor Petra Deuter, an executive director for a hospitality firm in London, UK. In this blog, the pair reflect on their journeys so far and how they have benefited from the programme.
The business case for gender equality is compelling.
Companies should realise how the lack of attention to gender issues can impact their bottom lines. Women are 40 percent of the global labour force and more than half the world’s university students. Despite this, there are few female CEOs or COOs in the world’s top firms and there are even fewer women in senior roles; women-owned or led businesses in low- and middle-income countries.
There is still a long way to go to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal # 5 – gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
In addition, as Korn Ferry’s recently published article states “A Mass Exodus Among Women – The global pandemic is causing four times more women than men to leave the workforce. Experts fear a ‘total wipeout’ of years of gender progress.”
From the start of the pandemic, the job losses among women have been a direct result of the collapse of female-dominated industries like hospitality, education, entertainment and even some parts of the health care system.
Yet women have been doing much themselves to correct this situation, through business support and mentoring schemes such as the programme run by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. We believe that empowering women is one of the smartest investments anyone can make.
I’d like to share my own journey as a female Executive within my industry, and how I became a mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
In the 30 years since I first started in the travel and hospitality industry, there have been some, but still too few major changes in women’s career advancement opportunities. Fortunately, there is continued determination amongst those of us campaigning for a more equal and balanced workforce, but we still need more trailblazers and mentors.
Back when I started my career and long into it, there was little discussion and much less focus on women achieving leadership roles, and opportunities to be mentored by senior women in my industry were virtually non-existent. For a long time, there simply weren’t enough women who felt they could act as mentors, even outside my industry. And men mentoring women was not widespread at all.
Eventually, I became one of the female minorities who attained management and leadership roles in the airline and hotel sectors. Working in different cultures and always in male dominant firms, I encountered my share of obstacles and setbacks. In large part, I believe, because of my gender and what I stood for. I would certainly have benefited from mentoring by leaders in my industry, and I’m sure the chance to learn from other women’s career ups and downs would have helped me become an Executive more easily.
This explains my eagerness to become a mentor many years ago, and a cheerleader for talented women to help accelerate diversity, equality and simple fairness in the workforce globally. As a mentor, I’ve appreciated how important it is to help each other, by pulling myself up with one hand, and lifting up another woman with the other.
As Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook said in 2018: “It is simply time that we close the mentorship gap. Even before #MeToo, women received less of the quality mentorship that opens doors. They’re less likely than men to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on how to advance and less likely to interact regularly with senior leaders. That’s the kind of support that leads to new roles, more power, and higher incomes – all of which would help correct workplace inequality more broadly.”
Becoming an official mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women was an honour and a natural choice for me. One I can highly recommend to anyone.
Joy-Marie (entrepreneur and mentee)
After more than 23 years in corporate South Africa in various senior roles, my role in executive management was made redundant. The prospect of pending unemployment was a harsh reality check, only slightly alleviated by the realisation that now I could start my own business instead of going back to the corporate world. But that leap into the unknown filled me with trepidation.
Soon afterwards, a former mentee of the Foundation encouraged me to apply. I was accepted in November 2019 and introduced to Petra, my mentor. We connected from our first session. Starting my new business was daunting, but the regular bi-weekly conversations with Petra helped me stay focused. I am grateful that despite her very busy schedule and long working hours, she never failed to support me for one year, as scheduled and when needed.
Governance and Coaching has always been a passion of mine. So, I combined my governance experience, legal training and Executive coaching skills to start my company, Boardvisory. Boardvisory provides governance consulting services and specialises in coaching boardroom Executives so that the conversations and decisions in the boardroom positively impact on people, profits and the planet. My business has grown to include international clients across Europe and Africa.
Boardvisory invites Executives to be courageous and ask the challenging questions, whilst being curious about the assumptions made in the boardroom. We believe that self-aware boardroom Executives make better decisions in the boardroom. This world deserves better boardroom leadership, and I want to contribute to making it a reality.
Petra – observations as a mentor
My greatest personal benefit has been the sense that in a small way, I have supported another woman building her own firm, and that I was able to share my vast international commercial, operational and leadership experience with Joy-Marie, to advise her how to grow a successful and rewarding company. Our exchanges were so enriching, I often wondered who was mentoring whom in our relationship. Whilst helping her set up and market her innovative approach, I’ve gained invaluable knowledge of a new culture and a different business, learned so much more about my own abilities and potential future opportunities too.
Joy-Marie – observations as a mentee
I enjoyed three significant benefits as a Cherie Blair Foundation mentee:
- Systemic support – the Foundation offers mentees webinars and a library of material they can access – particularly useful during the pandemic. I could choose which webinars to attend, gaining practical advice and information for my business which I could then reflect on and discuss in more detail with Petra.
- Accountability – knowing we would be meeting every two weeks gave me a sense of ownership and accountability. It helped me keep to my commitments and the new ideas I was exploring. In the ensuing follow-up session, Petra was a valued sounding board and adviser. In the first few sessions we focussed on establishing trust and clarifying goals, which I worked towards and ultimately achieved.
- Personal growth – reflecting on my thoughts, concerns, beliefs and behaviours were an integral part of the mentoring process. Working closely with a mentor over 12 months allowed me to make meaningful personal shifts.
It is simply fantastic that the Cherie Blaire Foundation is available to support women around the world, to help them set up their own firms, become independent and close the global gender gap in entrepreneurship and leadership.
Petra – final thoughts
Although the pandemic has been a threat for everyone, in business terms it seems that once again, women have been suffering disproportionately.
Even this gloomy cloud has a silver lining, however. Whilst women are losing out at work, many of them are taking the opportunity to start their own businesses. Now is the time that mentors like me can support new female entrepreneurs with the knowledge, advice and confidence to make a success of their own companies.
Joy-Marie – final thoughts
To any woman who has constantly pushed against inequality, I can thoroughly recommend grasping this moment to draw on your skills and inner strength to start your own business.
Not only will you at last have control, you can also be reassured that mentors are available to guide and inspire you through the challenges. This is your journey and your mentor is there to support you because they want to. You are not alone.
Stronger together – the satisfaction of mentoring
Providing mentoring support for women is more relevant now than ever, as the ongoing pandemic hits women’s jobs disproportionately hard. Women are vital to businesses, not only for diversity but also for the qualities, viewpoints and abilities they bring.
No matter your gender, please consider joining us in our mission and becoming a mentor too.
Since 2008, we’ve directly supported over 175,000 women to grow and strengthen their businesses, and in turn support their families and communities. Now, our ambitions are growing: our 100,000 Women Campaign, will enable us to reach another 100,000 women by 2022.
Be a business hero! You can be part of this incredible movement by joining the Foundation as a mentor to support a mentee like Joy-Marie.
Our world-class Mentoring Women in Business programme matches employees from a partner company’s workforce with woman entrepreneur mentees in low and middle income countries for one year in a mutually-beneficial business development relationship.
This remote, virtual model stands as a bold example of how women business owners can be supported during the current crisis, and how supporting women entrepreneurs can be centred in a post-pandemic economic re-build. Find out more how your company can partner with our Mentoring programme here!