Written by Carole Laible for 100 Women in Finance
In the ‘80s, there were not many women in leadership positions in public accounting. However, I was fortunate to work with two women that had risen to the rank of manager. As a young professional, I didn’t realize that working alongside these women was in effect mentorship, but their generous, supportive guidance was a life-changing gift (yes—life-changing, not simply career-changing). I am forever grateful to the incredible mentors throughout my career that have willingly given so much of themselves to me. Now a more seasoned professional, I can look back and realize that mentorship is not simply about equipping someone with the tools to do the job; it is about so much more.
1. Mentorship Happens
In 1986, with my degree in hand, I was eager, hardworking, and determined. All are good ingredients as a start, but far short of all that is needed for a successful career. Mari Beth Ferris and Rose Ann Slawson, both CPAs, not only rescued me from ugly work attire choices (my white patent leather sandals – yikes), but willingly and openly shared their knowledge, skills, practical advice, and friendship. They were completely different yet complimentary in the life skills they modeled, guided, and counseled on.
Mari was demure, a technician. I was convinced she had every accounting rule and pronouncement memorized. Her brilliance could be intimidating, but with her warm nature, she quickly became my go-to person when I was lost in a plethora of numbers and accounting treatments. Whether working late into the night or under extreme deadline pressure, Mari was always willing to put aside her needs and patiently provide much-needed information or assurance that my instincts were right. With her breadth and depth of knowledge, she taught me that putting in the time to build a foundation as a subject matter expert was a solid path to success. Her eagerness to share her wealth of knowledge became an attribute I aspired to embrace.
Rose Ann was forthright and approachable. She was an invaluable resource for surviving the grind of public accounting with advice on how to work smart, deal with an unreasonable partner, or meet deadlines. She was also a master at knowing when to give a gentle nudge on personal matters. Observing Rose Ann’s confidence was my first encounter with a strong woman in the workforce, and she taught me through her actions not to let gender stereotyping influence my workplace persona. In addition, as a dedicated mother and professional, she modeled that it was possible to strike a healthy work/life balance. Years later, her actions were a roadmap for me.
As the years progressed, so did our relationship. Mari and Rose Ann, close friends before I met them, shared that special bond with me. We vacationed together and shared life moments such as weddings, births, and new homes. We discussed our careers, both the challenges and triumphs, in the comfort of our own intimate peer-to-peer support group. And sadly, Rose Ann and I grieved together at the loss of our dear friend Mari to breast cancer at an early age.
On the tailwind of these wonderful mentors, I joined Domini Impact Investments in 1997. To this day, I have tried to discern whether it was coincidence or instinct that landed me at an organization with two of impact investing’s greatest icons. I like to think it was instinct, but either way, I struck gold with mentors yet again. It has been my honor and privilege to work with Amy Domini and Steve Lydenberg, our firm’s founders, for over 20 years now. Beyond providing long-term historical perspectives, they graciously and tirelessly transfer their skills and knowledge on investing and business practices.
In 2002, as I became Domini’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Amy immediately began my apprenticeship. I was hyper focused on the day-to-day role of COO, but as an accomplished professional, Amy had a much longer view. She was investing in legacy planning and every day counted. Amy is a dynamo of the practical, tactical, and strategic all in one. As a visionary in harnessing the power of finance to build a better world, she also carries that same wide-lens view into our company. Amy’s thoughtful approach to the world helps frame our investment standards and our corporate culture. She is a wealth of experience and anecdotes, from stories of her childhood with her grandfather to the challenges of creating the first responsible investing index (the Domini 400 Social Index) back in 1990.
Our time together has been filled with many special moments. Amy’s pure goodness radiates from her soul and shines through in so many of our interactions. Her passion for our planet and its people occupies her every thought and reflects itself in her life’s work, her personal life, and our organization’s mission. Our relationship has grown from one of mentorship to partnership, and as with my early mentors, friendship has been a wonderful byproduct. In hindsight, this is not surprising. Trust, respect, and admiration are sound building blocks for friendship. Working alongside Amy has helped me become a better businessperson through her shared wisdom, but more importantly, she has inspired me to be a better human.
Steve Lydenberg is a mix of brilliance and kindness. Working with him brings comfort similar to working with a favorite professor. He is a thought leader in the field and willing to share all he knows. His decades of experience in corporate social responsibility and assessment frameworks makes him an invaluable resource to any newcomer. Steve’s many years of mentoring me prepared me for my role on the Domini Standards Committee, the rulemaking body of our organization, and Domini’s Impact Review Committee, which has the duty to decide the investment eligibility of each company from an environmental and social perspective.
However, in addition to sharing his incredible mind, Steve’s most amazing lesson to me has been to always uphold the greater good, even at personal cost. Steve lives modestly and continually gives back to those less fortunate. He is focused on writing on ethics in finance to wake the sleeping giant. He implements practices like challenging himself to go an entire day without creating plastic waste – even if it means only eating at home or forgoing a cup of tea. Walking side by side with someone always considering others is a very healthy antidote for self-centeredness.
While Amy and Steve have provided countless business and life lessons, they have also banked an investment. Knowledge sharing is powerful for both those giving and receiving. As the recipient of their mentorship, it is now my responsibility to continue passing it on. I must ensure that all Amy and Steve have built will benefit future generations, and be a part of the critical bridge that unceasingly pays it forward.
2. Mentorship Forward
In most industries, teams are judged and evaluated on how they train others. Mentorship requires more. Go beyond training for the job function. Work to get to know the whole person. Help young professionals build a solid foundation for success through required skills, personal guidance, and moral support. Embolden and inspire those around you by fostering an environment that supports the interests and skills that individuals bring to the organization. Model behavior that young professionals can emulate and find aspirational. Most critically, take an interest in them. Practical advice on life and personal matters can help a young professional build a solid, stable foundation outside of work which can help them focus on career-building.
As I have transitioned from mentee to mentor, my own learning has not stopped. The young professionals I have worked with have graced me with many gifts through our interactions. I continue to learn and stay informed of viewpoints other than my own on matters ranging from the environment, to social justice, to pop culture. Our sharing is a give and take. It helps me keep my perspective fresh and, in turn, I strive to impart lessons from my years of experience.
I also serve as a LaunchMe mentor through 100 Women in Finance, where I have been able to provide my perspective on the field for people who are looking to enter the finance industry, expand their network, or even assist in navigating their next opportunity. Serving others as a mentor brings me joy as I watch young professionals grow and thrive. It’s my hope that the support I lend will help them add value at an organizational, personal, and societal level.
3. Getting Started
Orchestrate, but let it flow. Mentorship can be incredibly supportive in your career development, but be patient and allow it to happen organically. The strongest mentorship relationships are often built on a personal connection rather than an assignment. When you work with someone you admire, seek them out. Ask advice and share your feelings. Foster the friendship. Observe their behavior and absorb their advice and counsel. Not all advice will be relevant, but the interaction will help enhance the relationship.
Once you have found that connection, work to stay in touch. Whether you continue to work at the same firm or not, check in routinely. Rose Ann and I still get together regularly, and Amy and I do some of our best work when we go on a private retreat together.
Maintaining these relationships is how we continue to evolve as individuals and as an industry. Regardless of how far a person is in their career, there is always an opportunity to learn from each other. There is never an end date to make meaningful impact, a limit for wisdom sharing, or a maximum capacity for creating room for those who seek it.
As you advance in your career and are able to serve as a mentor, embrace it. A mentor’s commitment to the growth of another is a testament to the path they took to get there. Everyone has the potential for greatness and the act of advising is not only rewarding for the mentee, but for the mentor as well. Through this support, we prepare generations to come for success. The adage “giving is better than receiving” has never been more applicable.
* Now known as the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index, owned by MSCI, Inc. MSCI and Domini Impact Investments LLC are not affiliated.