Mentors are Essential to Workplace Leadership

Published on : 3/8/23
  • Mentorship can come in many forms. For it to be successful, the mentor and mentee must build a relationship of trust and authenticity while balancing confidentiality and openness. Those connections can leave extraordinary impressions on the mentee’s life and career — as well as the mentor’s  — and sometimes span decades.     

    Mentoring future women leaders throughout their career and leadership journey has been an important way to ensure women's voices are heard in the workplace, including the voices of women of color.Harsha Tank

    According to a study by McKinsey and Company and Lean In, as of 2022, 38% of senior-level women mentor or sponsor at least one woman of color, compared to only 26% of senior-level men.

    We talked to three of Sodexo's woman leaders about the benefits of mentorship in a corporate environment as we recognize International Women's Day on March 8.

    Harsha Tank, chief financial officer of Sodexo Corporate Services North America, joined the company in 2012 after deciding she wanted to focus her career on finding solutions for clients and being a business partner.

    As people advance into positions of leadership, the amount of feedback they receive from peers decreases. The funnel becomes narrower as you go up, and you don't have as much collaboration and team building, Tank says. That makes having mentors even more important in an organization's highest levels.

    Barb AndersonBarb Anderson works at Foodee, a company acquired by Sodexo in 2021, which streamlines digital meal ordering from local restaurants for workplace settings. She became chief executive officer of Foodee in 2022.

    For her, a mentor is a good fit if they're someone who can help you think through and solve problems, or more of a role model who shares values similar to yours. Like a good coach, you're not giving people the answers. You're helping them think through their problems, she says.

    Anderson benefits from being the mentor and the mentee. Explaining why you made a decision, or going through your thought process, is something that rarely happens in a day-to-day work context, she says.

    Having to take a moment to unpack your own critical decision process through complex situations is actually really valuable, she says. You get to be in the moment and present with that person who is able to coach you through it and potentially offer alternative approaches you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.

    Megan DahlenMegan Dahlen, senior vice president of business development for Sodexo Corporate Services North America, honed her skills in business transformation and sales team transformation before arriving at Sodexo in 2021.

    When I first started, I would always have one mentor, Dahlen says. I always thought of it as singular. But over the past five to seven years, my philosophy has changed. I now have a personal board of directors.

    Dahlen says she draws on the expertise of others, including a mentor who is a chief financial officer, another in marketing, and another who is an engineer by trade.

    Dahlen is also involved in reverse mentoring, where she regularly meets with a high school senior who teaches her what it's like to be part of his generation. They help connect and ground me in how the future of workplace and leadership will need to transform in order to attract and retain the very best talent, she says.

    Some companies also provide resources for mentors and mentees to develop meaningful relationships. At Sodexo, Tank helped women with leadership potential by becoming part of a mentorship circle that encouraged them to talk about various topics, including business cases from Harvard Business Review. Though the format was good, it's only as strong as the mentee's willingness to learn from it, she said.

    You can't do 'one size fits all' with mentoring, Tank says. Your personality, your current situation, your cultural background and your upbringing makes you unique. But you have to know what you want to learn, and make it a priority, to get the most out of mentoring.

    Sodexo supports and encourages leaders to mentor. We are making progress toward gender-balanced leadership teams, among our other objectives and goals for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Learn more about Sodexo's recent accomplishments supporting this goal, including being recently named a 2023 America's Top Corporation for Women's Business Enterprises.