The importance of a mentor in women’s equality

Aug 11, 2016


Jana Rieker

Jana Rieker is the PR and communications director at Trilix, a Des Moines based marketing agency. Her passion is promoting the state of Iowa. She is the co-chair of Million Women Mentors–Iowa, empowering women and girls in STEM. She is a member of Board of Trustees at Central College and serves the boards at Employee & Family Resources and the Iowa Hall of Pride.

To those of you who have been a teacher, coach or mentor to a female, thank you. And to those of you who have hired, promoted or voted for a female, thank you.  In most cases, if you try hard enough you can find examples of ways you’ve advocated for a woman. But is that good enough? No. We have to be more purposeful than that.

It took nearly 42 years before the idea of women’s equality and the right to vote was first introduced as an amendment to the constitution in 1878 before it was passed into law in 1920. I’m sure in that timeframe, nice things were done for women. They were hired for jobs, promoted, mentored and even thanked. However, until our country was purposeful about passing the law allowing women to vote, the status quo prevailed.

In honor of Women’s Equality Day on August 26, I was asked to share a story about the importance of mentoring in the equation of equality.  

I’ve read a lot of books on women’s rights and women’s leadership. Everything from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” to Lois Frankel’s “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.” But the thing that has always held true is that having positive mentors in my life has helped me achieve more, and believe more, than I could ever do on my own.

Mentoring a woman to step out of her comfort zone and pursue a passion, career advancement or an election can provide her with the support she needs to take that leap. I’m talking about looking for ways to lift other women up and encouraging them to chase their dreams. Even something as simple as posting a message on social media about a friend’s accomplishment, or recognizing them for the way they lead as mothers, lawyers, health care providers, elected officials, volunteers, or whatever your friends may do. Be purposeful about recognizing their importance.

When a woman does stand up for herself and take a risk, recognize her bravery and support her. Do not find victory in another female’s defeat. Do not find happiness in another women’s pain. Be brave enough to support her, even if your beliefs may be different. It’s our job to recognize the importance of supporting women who aren’t afraid to try.

I’m a sports fan. I asked West Des Moines Valley Head Girls’ Basketball Coach, Josef Sigrist, about the importance of mentoring on his team. He said, “We emphasize that every member of the team plays an important role, and we need to support each other on and off of the court to reach our true potential. We can have a lot of talent on the floor, but if we’re not supporting each other and working together as a team, we won’t be as successful in the long run.” In his four years as head coach at Valley, the team has an overall record of 79-21.

Mentoring relationships are important. We should not allow ourselves to be less assertive because of our tendency to be more compassionate. Rather let’s support women who take risks, who fall, and who pick themselves back up again and are strong enough to find new ways to lead. 

Leadership is an equalizer. It doesn’t know male or female. Either you have it or you don’t. But all leaders need mentors, and the ONLY way women are going to continue to find more leadership opportunities is to support women who are brave enough to take those risks.