How to mentor other women, according to one of the most powerful women in NYC government

Just put in the call.
Just put in the call.
Image: Reuters/Damir Sagolj
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Alicia Glen is the most powerful woman in New York City government. And she’s fed up.

“This year had felt like an ongoing slap in the face,” Glen, New York City’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said at a women’s leadership forum sponsored by the technology firm AppNexus. (The day before the Nov. 9 forum was the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.) “It’s also the Year of Harassment,” Glen continued. “That’s crazy. You can’t have a ‘Year of Harassment.'”

The audience, nearly all women, released a collective laugh-sigh.

The flip-side to this Year of Harassment, says Glen, is that empowering women in business is more important than ever. That goal is particularly vital to Glen, a former co-leader of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses initiative and one of the few women left in New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s inner circle. To her, mentoring other women is one of the most effective means of empowering them.

But as Glen herself acknowledges, the whole idea of “mentorship” can get pretty squishy. So she offered a simple, two-step recipe for women intent on mentoring other women—and actually making a difference in their lives.

First, every couple weeks, dedicate at least 15 minutes to sitting down (in person or on a video call) with a more junior woman in your organization or your broader professional network. Actively give her your full, focused attention—no multi-tasking.

Second, after the conversation, “actually pick up the phone and get her a connection,” Glen stresses. Helpful as professional advice can be, for women to make real strides toward equal professional representation and pay, mentors need to be willing to take real, needle-moving action on behalf of other women.

This action has been identified as the difference between mentorship and sponsorship; according to Glen, the two roles always ought to go hand-in-hand.

To illustrate the two-step strategy, Glen gave a personal example. During the development of a New York City government-sponsored crowdfunding program providing accessible capital to female entrepreneurs, Glen encountered many female entrepreneurs, one of whom ran a small bread company.

“We were talking about bakery entrepreneurship, and how to raise capital, and I was kind of listening to her but not fully,” said Glen. “Then she asked me, straight up, ‘Do you know the guy who runs Whole Foods?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m the deputy mayor of New York, I know the guy who runs Whole Foods.'”

Caught off guard by the entrepreneur’s action-oriented question, Glen called the Whole Foods leader the next day. Today, Glen says, that bread entrepreneur’s product is on shelves at Whole Foods stores across, and beyond, New York City.

Of course, this two-step mentorship strategy can be applied to mentors and mentees of all genders—and of any age or professional level. (Glen also emphasized the importance of mentoring people at your own professional level, not just “mentoring down.”)

Not all of us are likely to have the perfect, career-changing contact conveniently stored in our phones. Still, taking any action to introduce a mentee to knowledgable, invested professionals will increase their networks and experience, while modeling the importance of asking, rather than waiting, for the opportunities you know you deserve—a critical skill set for women who are, by virtue of their gender, are consistently under-promoted, under-paid, and under-funded.

As Glen concluded: “It’s time for women to get out there, and be shit stirrers. Go stir shit up.”