Women Empowering Women: The Benefits of Mentorship

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By: Alison O'Connell

When I first heard about Apra Pennsylvania's (Apra PA's) mentorship program last year, I was eager to participate. While I was not new to the development field, I was new to prospect development and saw the program as a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills. The program more than delivered — the discussions I had with my mentor, Della Keyser, associate director of prospect research at Villanova University, covered more ground than I anticipated. While we spoke about portfolios, research vendors and other prospect development topics, we also touched upon career paths, compensation and professional growth within our organizations.

Although gender is not taken into consideration when mentorship program pairings are made, I found that having a woman as my mentor was beneficial. Not only did I clarify my own career goals, but Della was open to discussing matters that affected us as women in the workplace, like salary inequality[1] and the barriers that many female leaders face.[2] My experience is not unique; the benefits of female mentorship are well-researched and powerful. Even Oprah credits her mentor, Maya Angelou, with inspiring, guiding and challenging her throughout her career.

To celebrate Women's History Month this March, I wanted to discover whether other female and female-identifying mentorship program participants had a similar experience to mine. I sent an informal survey to each Apra chapter that runs a mentorship program and asked them to share it with their past participants in order to discover why they had joined their chapter's program, what issues they and their mentor/mentee discussed and what benefits they felt they gained from having a woman-to-woman mentorship. I received more than two dozen responses from women eager to share their stories. Read on to find out more about their experiences and the distinctive power of female mentorship.

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Fourteen Apra chapters across the U.S. and Canada currently offer mentorship programs, and many were launched with the help of other chapters. For instance, Apra PA's program was “launched in 2019 and is open to members who are interested in expanding their knowledge and involvement in the prospect development profession,” according to Apra PA Vice President and Conference Director Jessica Wade. “Our chapter is grateful to the Apra chapters, particularly Apra Minnesota, that offered guidance on developing a mentorship program,” she added. Mentor/mentee matches are made by prioritizing the mentee's interest areas, and the chapter provides guidance on meeting topics and timing.

Research shows that women need increased access to mentorship opportunities and, accordingly, most survey respondents noted they were interested in the career development, networking and teaching opportunities these programs presented. As Rachel Kave, director of strategy and prospect research at St. Luke's University Health Network and Apra PA mentorship program participant, shared, “I am a learner by nature, so being able to learn how others are successful, as well as sharing my experience and success has been a very positive experience.”

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Mentorship can be a critical component of professional success. People with mentors are more likely to get promoted[3], and according to Forbes, mentorships can “lead to better projects, access to leadership, advocacy at higher levels and mutual support.”[4] However, per a 2019 study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders; that number drops to 32% for women of color.[5]

Apra chapter mentorship programs provide an important opportunity for women to connect with potential mentors that they might not find through their own organizations. Additionally, as I discovered through my discussions with Della, female mentors are uniquely positioned to coach women on matters that can affect them professionally more than men, such as burnout[6], finding work/life balance and successfully negotiating salary[7]. The results of my informal survey suggest that if you provide women with opportunities for mentorship, they will take advantage and benefits will follow.

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The benefits of mentorship go both ways — being a mentor is also valuable to women who are established in their careers. Mentoring a fellow woman, whether at your own workplace or elsewhere, can help you strengthen your leadership skills, gain new perspectives and increase gender diversity at the highest levels.

Despite common misconceptions, mentors don’t need to be in the C-suite — even women with a few years of experience can be great mentors. And since women are less likely to ask for or offer to be a mentor, programs like the ones offered by Apra are even more important to inspire women to connect.

In the words of Kristine Yager-Rushton, prospect researcher and development specialist at Georgia Southern University, “As professionals, we want to be heard and valued for our work… Even in prospect research, we get overlooked every day by executives [who] tend to be more male than female. Another female to act as a mentor is valued and we should all be encouraging our sisters to strive to be your best and be heard in your organization.”

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These survey results, along with research and anecdotal evidence, suggest that mentorship is an effective tool to create a more diverse, knowledgeable and successful field of prospect development professionals. Women mentoring women can be especially powerful because it provides professional growth, leadership opportunities and a network of support for women who may not otherwise find these crucial components to success.

This Women's History Month, reach out to your local Apra chapter to find out more about their mentorship program or to connect with other women in prospect research. It will be rewarding in more ways than one!

 

Special Thanks to:

Jessica Wade, Apra PA

Elizabeth Conner, Apra Operations Manager

All the Apra Chapter leaders who shared the survey

Survey respondents

 

[1] According to the 2021 Apra Salary Survey, prospect development professionals who identify as female earn approximately 8% less on average than male professionals (based on all positions – that gap widens to 14% at the director-level). Apra & Smithbucklin, Apra 2021 Salary Survey Report, university.aprahome.org/products/apra-2021-salary-survey-report

[2] Research by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has found that four out of five senior leadership positions in fundraising are held by men. AFP, The Impact of Gender on Fundraising Salaries, afpglobal.org/sites/default/files/attachments/2019-03/EffectofGenderonFundraisingSalaries2019.pdf

[3] Allen et al., “Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring for Proteges.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 2004, Vol. 89, No. 1, 127–136.

[4] Elting, Liz, “4 Ways Women Mentoring Women Can Change The World,” Forbes, 26 Nov. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/lizelting/2018/11/26/4-ways-women-mentoring-women-can-change-the-world

[5] LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2019, womenintheworkplace.com/2019

[6] 42% of women say they are often or almost always burned out, compared to 35% of men, and that number rises to 55% for mothers of young children. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2021, womenintheworkplace.com/2021

[7] Such gender differences are generally small, but research shows that differences in salary negotiation can add up to big disparities over time. Shonk, Katie, “Women and Negotiation: Narrowing the Gender Gap in Negotiation,” Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation, 21 Dec. 2021, www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/business-negotiations/women-and-negotiation-narrowing-the-gender-gap/

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