Mentoring Women in Leadership
Benchmark Vice President
Benchmark Human Services (Benchmark) has a rich history of women in leadership roles. Health and Human Services, and particularly the Intellectual/Developmental Disability industry, has been female-dominated for decades and decades. Recently that has changed as pay has increased along with the growing recognition of the complexity of our work. Working for local organizations, both not-for-profit and for-profit, has become more appealing for women and men. I have mentored women and men throughout my career, but in honor of Women’s History Month, I want to emphasize the importance of mentoring women in our field.
Potential women leaders come in all colors, orientations, ages, shapes, and backgrounds. We just have to recognize their potential. It is our responsibility as leaders to see the potential in our staff, acknowledge their contributions, and brag about them to anyone who will listen. Great leaders don’t take the credit, rather they shine the light on their employees. Great leaders develop their staff instead of simply directing them. When I started my career at Benchmark I was mentored by a boss who was a strong female leader. Throughout my time under her supervision, she shaped and increased my responsibilities so I was constantly learning and growing. I remember attending a week-long training on, “Living the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and an intense Continuous Quality Improvement training over one year. These particular trainings helped shape the type of leader I became, and Benchmark provides learning experiences to help us grow as workers and leaders.
Three qualities that stand out to me in potential female leaders are competency, care, and enthusiasm, though there are many in addition. The great women leaders I have encountered bring the best of themselves to their job and always focus on the mission of providing top-notch service to the individuals in our care. Potential leaders do their best whether someone is watching or not. When a situation needs to be fixed they don’t make excuses, they offer suggestions for improvement and then put a plan into action. They share stories about the individuals we serve and highlight all the good things their staff are doing. When they make a mistake, they own it and learn from the experience. Women leaders don’t need a certain title to be a leader. All levels of our work require leaders, and the ones who step up are often seen and respected as such.
Great women leaders may have intrinsic qualities that enable them to take on the responsibility, but it is the responsibility of the current leaders to lift them up. We must provide the structure and opportunities for growth by offering leadership training, special projects, mentoring, feedback, and a path for their future. We must also acknowledge women often have primary responsibilities outside of work, such as caring for their children or aging parents, and that requires flexibility on our part. If we don’t see the whole person we miss an opportunity to support someone who may be an incredible asset to your team.
Women, if you see yourself as a potential leader and don’t feel you are being recognized as such, speak up. Tell your supervisor that you have the soul and fire of a leader. Sit down with them and come up with a mutual plan to guide your future development. Benchmark is an organization that continues to grow and thrive, and the possibilities for training, growth, and career advancement are endless. You just have to speak up and put in the effort to be extraordinary!