Emily Smith

When we hear the word “legacy,” we think about bequests from one generation to the other within the dynamic of the family. But legacy also means what we leave behind, endow or transfer from one person to another.

At work, individuals we collaborate with and mentor can be part of that legacy. According to Jim Rohn, “All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.”

This can be tall order for women, considering that approximately 35 percent of positions vacated by women are not filled by women. At the current rate of change in the workplace, it will take approximately 66 years for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles. After more than four decades since the start of the second-wave of women’s movements, women are still encountering barriers in reaching their full potential. A tall order, yes, but one I think we are up to.

Frequent challenges confronting women in the pursuit of legacy development often include cultural and longstanding professional presumptions, with the most sensitive of them being the organizational structures themselves. Simply put, there is a shortage of women role models and mentors in the workplace.

To complicate the condition, some women in leadership roles, due to existing organizational disadvantages have been forced to protect their frail domain. Certainly not all, but some working women are reluctant to advocate for one another. The long-term belief and threat that there may be only one seat at the table for a woman, encourages the mentality, “it’s going to be me.”

Entrenched mis-beliefs decree that talented women are considered a threat while those less qualified could make us look bad. Human nature often holds us in our comfort zone based on past experiences. It’s necessary to challenge these archaic assumptions in order to make work environments better. Instead of perpetuating this stereotype, it’s time to recognize that women who support women will ultimately be more successful, providing positive work space impacts.

A study of Standard & Poor’s 1,500 companies over 20 years found that 65 percent of high-potential women who received support paid it forward by mentoring others. This is encouraging, but important to note that only 27 percent of high-level executive positions are filled by women.

So, how do we keep the needle moving in the right direction? It’s no secret that mentoring sets individuals up for success. As more and more women begin to support and encourage the development of one another, fewer women will choose to block the growth and progression of others. Both mentor and mentee benefit from mentoring programs.

In a Wharton School of Business study, mentors were promoted six times more often than those not in the program; mentees were promoted five times more often than those not in the program. While 67 percent of women rate mentorship as highly important in career advancement, 63 percent report they’ve never had a mentor.

I am one of those 63 percent. It wasn’t until much later in life and I began mentoring young women did I recognize the impact that I became empowered enough to build my own mentor legacy. Don’t hesitate. Seek out your own mentor.

Mentorship is important for professional and personal development. Women should be encouraged early in their careers, and organizations should begin employees in mentoring programs from day one regardless of position. Let’s begin to shatter some crazy old myths and revisit personal, professional and organizational legacy aspirations. Let’s be the change needed.

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Emily Smith is the co-creator of Touchstone.