Women mentoring women—how to nurture the next generation of female agency executives

Five ways mentorships help participants build confidence, accelerate professional development and navigate career challenges.

Women mentoring women—how to nurture the next generation of female agency executives

When I came up in the advertising business, mentors were few and far between—especially for women trying to find their voice in a male-dominated industry. While advertising in the late ’80s and early ’90s was not a daily gantlet of sexist comments reminiscent of “Mad Men,” there were some elements of that. Although a few leaders felt the responsibility to impart some lessons to the next generation, it wasn’t formally encouraged. Mentorship was an afterthought.

Over the years mentorship has grown along with the number of women advancing at agencies. Still, there are few formal mentorship programs at many large corporate agencies. Mentorship is like a college elective for C-suite level agency staff: You can mentor if you choose, but you won’t be rewarded for it come bonus time. Within big agencies, you are more likely to find community-building resource groups—which are great—than you are an organized process for mentorship.

And with the emergence of for-profit mentorship programs, would-be mentees have complained even more about the lack of formal mentorship programs within the ad community. That development led in part to a crowd-sourced Google Doc to connect mentors and mentees, but it hasn’t been updated since 2021.

That formal mentorship seems to be a lost art is a shame, because if there ever were generations that need mentoring, it is Gen Zers and millennials coming up thanks in large part to repercussions from the post-COVID work-from-home mindset. coming back to the office—in many cases for the first time—after years of working from home.

Even more important than mentors you have when starting out are those you need when at a mid-career inflection point. For many in their late 30s and early 40s, this is when the pressure of life and family obligations start to outweigh career goals. Mid-career calculations are vital to how many careers unfold; having a mentor during this timeframe is valuable.

So, what should agencies and their C-suite staffers—and their mentees—do to get more out of mentoring? Here are a few ideas for mentors:

Start the conversation

If you’re mentoring someone who is struggling with career issues, simply ask “What have you done so far?” It’s surprising how many people suffer from paralysis in taking even the first step toward a solution. Creating a focused plan with real intentions will always put them on the best path forward. Be a mentor that can challenge others and help evaluate their next career steps.

Stay connected

Being a mentor means staying in contact regularly with your mentee. Circumstances change quickly, and strategies might need to be revised on the fly—so be available.

Get to know the whole person

While a mentor isn’t a therapist, it is important to get to know the whole person when mentoring. All individuals have many sides, so try to understand them all. It will allow you and your mentee to have a more meaningful dialogue meant for just them.

Here are two suggestions for mentees:

Go exploring for mentors

Don’t be shy about reaching out. Go on LinkedIn and contact women you want to connect with and learn from in the industry. I welcome new connections all the time and am happy to chat about career ambitions—I still have a few myself. Industry sites that crowdsource opinions are valuable but making a direct connection can be far more useful over the long term.

Build your network

It’s OK to ask your mentor if they are open to sharing their contact list.  Mentorship can be a unique networking opportunity. 

At their best, mentoring programs are good for mentees who receive insights and career advice, and mentors who connect to the values, ideas and passions of the next generation of ad executives.

Mentorship can inspire both the mentor and the mentee to reach farther, perform better and contribute to our industry. As Steven Spielberg said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”