Cultivating Women Leaders Via Mentorship
Terry Rubenstein is the the Executive Vice President of the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. She has held many lay appointments and was formerly a home builder and newspaper reporter. She has three children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at TMR@magnajm.com
A few years ago I was asked to chair an initiative for United Jewish Communities called Gender Equity and Organizational Effectiveness.
Supported by Shifra Bronznick, her organization, Advancing Women Professionals and The Jewish Community, and a fabulous UJC task force of men and women, we worked for two years to identify what barriers were keeping women out of the top professional roles in the Jewish Federation field and to figure out how we could make Jewish communal work more family friendly.
Interestingly, the research we contracted conclusively showed that women wanted to move into the top positions; they just weren’t being asked. We found that there simply weren’t enough women in the pipeline for leadership and most of all, they didn’t have adequate mentoring. So putting that notion to work, I asked Rachel Monroe, who at the time was the COO of the Baltimore Federation, to help me create such a group.
Rachel, with the complete endorsement and support of Marc Terrill, the President of The Associated, identified mid-level women in their early 30s with leadership potential. For about 9 months, we had dinner at my home and talked about issues in a no-holds-barred “what’s said here stays here” format.” Later, at each session, I invited some of my non- profit women friends to talk; finally, the group said that they wanted to find mentors. I spoke with a group of folks and some of the women who had already come to act as mentors and we divvied up the list. Rachel and I had a pretty good idea of who would work well together and they each had informal meetings before engaging together. Each pair worked out their own mentoring agreement. Subsequently we had some informal dinners together as a group.
In the following year, every woman in the group advanced in her current job, or took a job at another agency with more status and more pay. Rachel went on to become COO of the Weinberg Foundation and will become President next year. One of the other women replaced Rachel as special assistant to the president of the Associated; another became assistant director of the division of Funds and Foundations. Another woman went to another organization where she became chief development officer, and yet another went on to become a program officer at Weinberg. Two other women received promotions at the Associated which respected their needs to modify their work time to suit their family life.
So, this simple formula: eat dinner in a private home, with a trusted senior woman professional, develop a cohort group among the women themselves, and find a mentor seemed to result in some pretty spectacular results.
We are calling this concept “Mentoring Circles,” and it seems pretty simple to replicate. I suspect that the graduates of the Wexner Foundation could be great champions of this idea.