Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan’s Remarks at the Mentoring Women Forum
Standard Chartered Head Office, Accra, Ghana
Thursday, January 9, 2020; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Mentoring Women Ghana Executive Director Brigitte Dzogbenuku;
Participants in today’s mentoring program;
I’m happy and honored that Brigitte invited me to join you today as a special guest. Let me say that all of you present here are very special! Today I want to speak with you about the importance, power, and need for women to mentor other women. This event is a great way to start off 2020, and it’s not too late to make those New Year’s Resolutions – including becoming a mentor if you can and seeking mentorship. Or maybe even both – since mentoring and being mentored are not mutually exclusive, and we can make our best contributions by being lifelong learners.
Women benefit greatly when leaders, especially women, take the time to mentor other women and set them on a path to greater success. I would not be here without having learned from my mentors, and it’s likely each of you had a powerful mentor who encouraged you and helped shape you along the way. The world can never have enough women leaders, but there are enough of us now for us to encourage successful women to pay their success forward by mentoring more women. Do you agree?
Throughout my career, I have relied on the advice and wisdom of my elders, peers, and friends, and I’d like to think that I have also added value for others. This spirit of continuous improvement brings to mind one of my favorite African sayings: “We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.”
In the spirit of providing those shoulders to help boost others, here are a five of my thoughts on mentoring:
- As you climb the ladder of success, remember to lift others up to succeed in their own journeys, because success has a ripple effect of inspiration beyond those whom you mentor. They too will pass on your lessons to others, so your legacy will live on. It feels good when my mentees tell me “I found myself channeling Stephanie Sullivan today” in a challenging situation, and when I hear the wise words of my own mentors inside my head, even those who have joined the ancestors.
- Most successful people will tell you that, along their journey, they succeeded sometimes, and also suffered setbacks. They rose and persevered, succeeded again, perhaps experienced more setbacks, but demonstrated resiliency, and then succeeded again. It is rarely a straight line to the top. There will be many stumbles and falls along the way, and it is at those points when mentorship is crucial in righting the path. It’s important to be honest as a mentor – talk about your own setbacks and how they contributed to your growth as a person. Once you are in a leadership position, others may find it hard to imagine that you also struggled and continue to struggle! By the way, you may have noticed I avoided using the word failure; I prefer to frame such experiences as “learning opportunities.” As my mother used to tell me, “Nothing is wasted.”
- I encourage you all to be open to serendipity. Sometimes the path you initially set out on doesn’t work out. But that’s okay because something else –perhaps something completely unexpected –will surely come along. Be open and flexible when such opportunities arise. For example, I never imagined I would become a diplomat, never having met any diplomats before my Peace Corps service as a teacher in the now-Democratic Republic of the Congo. Look at me now!
- While it is normal to find inspiration in role models, don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be someone more intelligent or more talented than you. That’s okay, because there will only ever be one you! In this socially networked world, it’s too easy to feel inadequate compared with your peer’s carefully curated images. It is tempting to worry that you are falling behind somehow. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all schedule. Focus on being the best you that you can be! This will also allow you to be a credible mentor to others.
- Be kind to others along the way; you never know when you’ll come across them again. We are all connected, and it matters how we treat people from all walks of life. This becomes especially true when we reach positions of leadership and become responsible for setting the tone for organizations and more junior colleagues. Be humble and express your gratitude to those who work with and support you. Share your successes with your team, and take responsibility for, and lead the way when analyzing, “learning opportunities.”
These pieces of advice have helped me, and I hope they help you as well! But this isn’t just about how we succeed as individuals. We all know that when women succeed, children are healthier and better educated, and communities thrive. Women’s economic development lifts our nations up. Women today here in Ghana, in the United States, and around the world are key elements of the economic engine of business.
Women need mentors to succeed for so many reasons! First of all, anyone who enters the entrepreneurial worldis a risk taker, and that takes courage in and of itself. Second, it takes persistence and innovation ,to succeed in any field. And third, entrepreneurs create jobs.
The United States strongly support’s Ghana’s goal to create the jobs needed for members of the growing youth population to build their dreams here at home. I’m proud that many alumnae of U.S. exchange programs, some of whom are with us today, are making your own mark, as well as mentoring others, to strengthen Ghana’s private sector.
In closing, mentoring is not a uniquely female pursuit, as men have been mentoring other men for generations and men can also mentor women. Everyone needs mentors, irrespective of gender, but because we still have a long way to go for gender equality in business, politics, civic life, or even domestic life, we women need to mentor other women for our communities to be the best communities they can be.
Those of you here today, and those whom you will mentor and encourage, have an opportunity to write a new story for women in Ghana and women across Africa… a story of powerful women business leaders, civic leaders, and entrepreneurs who become the driving force for greater peace and prosperity. Mentor another woman: do it for yourself, do it for your community, and do it for your country!