How SACCNY Mentor Program Helps Women in International Business
The SACCNY Mentor Program, an extension of the Executive Women’s Conference, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The Program Director, Yvonne Thunell describes more about its cause and how it works.
Forging an international business career is a difficult task in and of itself. But doing so as a woman in a new country can be even harder. With this particular challenge in mind, SACCNY organized a mentor program targeted for women in international business as a spin-off of the Executive Women’s Conference.
The premise is simple: utilizing the Chamber’s extensive network, the year-long program pairs each young female professional, ages 26 to 35 years old, with a mentor who is an executive leader in international business. Throughout the year, each pair of mentor and mentee engages in a recommended eight to ten meetings, in-depth discussions, and evening workshops focused on topics such as international leadership in international organizations. The program has seen executives signing up from more than 180 renowned, innovative companies, including Deloitte, Ericsson, H&M, LinkedIn and Spotify, just to name a few.
As Program Director for the past ten years, Yvonne Thunell of Thunell & Partners knew the mentor program would be a success from the get-go. And now ten years running, she has been proven right. “I attribute this to the fact that we have so many talented participants representing many different sectors—who always fully engage in sharing experiences and listening to one another.”
Indeed, as she observes, “Many young international leaders grew more confident as leaders and found more enjoyment in their professional lives.” However, they are not the only people who benefit from this experience. Mentors, too, get something, perhaps more intangible but no less rewarding—a first-hand role in shaping tomorrow’s international business leaders. At the end of the day, Thunell describes this dynamic and rewarding program as a “win-win initiative.”
“Coaching someone younger is very rewarding for me in many ways. Aside from sharing what I have learned and passing something forward, I always gain insights and learn a great deal from my mentees. As I worked with Sara this year, I tried not to give too much direct advice, but instead guide with the ‘right’ questions. The purpose is to let her reflect and come up with her own solutions. While I certainly tried to incorporate some questions that have helped me in my own career, I also brought other discussion topics that I wish someone would have asked me when I was starting my career. Over time, I began to notice Sara’s growth—in self esteem, self awareness, curiosity and strength. And I must say: I am impressed!”
—Mentor, Magdalena Gerger, CEO & President, Systembolaget AB
“Being able to regularly discuss career-related topics with one of the most influential Swedish business women is incredibly rewarding. My mentor, Magdalena Gerger, is knowledgeable, clever and insightful. She is a true inspiration and has helped me gain a lot of insight. One of the key things I have learned here is to go beyond setting ambitious goals to realizing them systematically. In order to become a global business leader, one must be able to prioritize and process lots of information quickly. Moreover, another valuable quality of this program is the ‘free space’ to discuss differences between men and women in business. Many of us work in industries where there is still a long way to go in terms of gender equality. So being able to discuss this with seasoned professionals has strengthened me to continue work to change this ratio.”
—Mentee, Sara Resvik, Investment Manager, Industrifonden
“As a mentor that has been with the program since 2007, I am always inspired by young leaders since they broaden my perspective and make me a bit ‘future proof.’ Although there is no single formula on how to become an excellent global leader, a program like this certainly helps. As Sheryl Sandberg once said, ‘Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder,’ I believe that if a mentee really knows what she wants, she can take more risks and grab more opportunities. However, the realities for women and men are different. As proven by research, women are given less mentorship and less constructive feedback when they reach a certain level in their careers. Moreover, women have weaker networks. This is why, I believe this mentor program can be one of the ways to improving the balance”
—Mentor, Pia Gideon, Chairperson, Klövern & Action Aid
“To me, a great mentor is a combination of these things: wonderful listener, wise, experienced, successful, encouraging, realistic, passionate and energetic. My mentor—Pia Gideon—are all these things. Throughout the year in the program, she put in a lot of effort as my mentor, sharing her wisdom and experience in a lighthearted way. Yet, at the end of the day, what I got out of this program goes beyond my time and relationship with my mentor, but also a remarkable peer network of professionals with whom I can learn and discuss different subjects. In the SACCNY Mentor Program, I also learned that being a global business leader requires the ability to generate a growth mindset among staff throughout the organization. And since the world is rapidly and constantly evolving, it is important to help people thrive under change.”
—Mentee, Katarina Dahlen, Head of Group Control, Bonnier