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Women and Leadership Initiative’s Mentorship Forward Supports MBA Students -Women of Color and their Allies

By Jamie Boyle

ST. PETERSBURG (May 7, 2021) -- The Women and Leadership Initiative’s Graduate Business Mentorship Forward Program, in keeping with the overall WALI theme of race and representation, has two focuses this year.

The first is to help mentees address the inequities that women of color and their supporters face in overcoming discrimination in the workplace and the second is to equip outstanding students with the skills needed to accelerate their careers.

The Women and Leadership Initiative continues to carry on the legacy of the Muma College of Business donors, Kate Tiedemann, Ellen Cotton, and Lynn Pippenger. The initiative is inspired by the legacy they have created for women in business.

"The Mentorship Forward Program is critical for our students’ success,” said Sri Sundaram, dean of the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance. “The impact of having a strong mentor support is even more important for our female MBA students of color and their allies as they learn to navigate the challenges of their professional career while also committing to support gender and racial equity in the workplace.”

The program this year serves 14 graduate students, with 75 percent being women of color and almost all MBA students. Mentees learned how to highlight their strengths on résumés through multiple workshops and meetings with program Director Lisa Yacso and MBA career coach, Doug Meyn.

Additionally, mentees participate in workshops like Emotional Intelligence and Anti-Racism in the Workplace, Clifton Strengths and networking activities. Many mentees also participated in the Muma College of Business’ “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace” certificate program, along with having attended the Women and Leadership Initiative’s Thought Leadership series titled “I’m Speaking.”

MBA student and Fulbright scholar Rehab Gamal El-Din is a mentee in the program.

“The program addresses many issues women face in their day-to-day lives,” she said. “It focuses not only on women's empowerment but also on diversity and inclusion of everyone, people of color, different religious views and sexual orientations. I get to meet and connect with strong women from different backgrounds that I can learn a lot from.”

Marina Baronas, is another mentee in the program. She recently accepted a role as the director of Restaurant Operations at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans as a direct outcome of the résumé-building workshop and guidance from Yacso and Meyn.

“Mentorship Forward has allowed me to be a part of a great group of professional women striving to grow and break the glass ceiling of the corporate world,” Baronas said. “The ‘I’m Speaking’ series was incredibly insightful and allowed me to understand different perspectives of micro-aggressions at work, gender and racial biases, and much more.”

In addition to the anti-racism, emotional intelligence and career development programming, each mentee is assigned to a mentor throughout this yearlong program. Mentors and mentees are required to meet a minimum of four times throughout the year, although typically that relationship develops and strengthens beyond that. Matching each mentee with the right mentor is the priority for Yacso, who carefully selects a mentor with similar career and industry interests to each mentee and who will understand the experience of being a leader who is a woman of color or an ally.

“One of the best parts about having a mentor,” Yacso said, “is understanding your blind spots.” The program this year not only has young graduate students early in their careers, but also has mentees who are high-ranking individuals in their organizations.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, we all have blind spots,” Yacso said, “and it is helpful to have someone to identify those with you and help you work to resolve them.

“Having that insight come from someone who looks like you is even more meaningful.”

The Mentorship Forward program will run until April 2022.