Women Mentors Leave a Legacy

Alyse Nelson, the CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership, believes that “mentorship is critical to catalyzing future leadership and spurring economic growth. It’s universal, cost-effective, and efficient. Every woman has something to offer as a mentor and every woman has something to learn as a mentee. If we can harness the power and potential of women who are committed to sharing knowledge, skills, and access then we can accelerate women’s leadership globally.”

According to a survey by LinkedIn (quoted on the NPR website), nearly 1 out of 5 women said they’ve never had a mentor at work. While there are several reasons proposed in the NPR article for this lack of mentors, there are also many examples of women who have served as mentors, and, unfortunately, many of them died in 2016. To honour these women and the legacy they have provided, we list them in this end-of-2016 tribute.

(Note. When a mentor dies, most people use the past tense to describe his or her mentoring. For example, a person might say, “he or she ‘was’ a mentor to so and so.” However, in our understanding of mentoring, one of the things that make it different from so many other forms of influence, it that what a person learned from a mentor lasts a lifetime. Therefore unless the person being mentored has also passed on, we prefer to use the present tense, “is” a mentor to indicate that mentoring provides a never-ending legacy.)

vera_rubinFeminist icon, pioneering astronomer and Medal of Science award winner Vera Rubin (Bio)  (1928-2016) is a mentor to many young scientists. When Dr. Rubin was told by her high school physics teacher that she’d been awarded a scholarship to Vassar, “he said to me, ‘As long as you stay away from science, you should do okay.’ It took an enormous self-esteem to listen to things like that and not be demolished.” What Dr. Rubin learned from that experience was that “rather than teaching little girls physics, you have to teach them they can learn anything they want to.”

esma_redzepovaRoma musician, singer and humanitarian Esma Redzepova (Bio) (1943-2016) was mentored by Macedonian composer Stevo Teodosievski. She acted as a foster parent along with her husband to 47 children. She supported women’s rights and was awarded the Macedonian Order of Merit.

florence_hendersonBroadway star and TV-icon Florence Henderson (Bio) (1934-2016) is a mentor to Brady Bunch star Barry Williams. She was the first woman to host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and became a role model for women to hold hosting and broadcasting positions on network television and was the childhood television heroine of Calista Flockhart. She was mentored by Christine Johnson, considered Broadway star Mary Martin her role model, and as a child, Ms. Henderson idolized actress Jane Wyman. In discussing her serving as a role model in playing mother Carol Brady on the Brady Bunch, she said, “I begged them [the producers] to give Carol Brady a job. They wouldn’t do that. I mean, those clothes, for God’s sake, take a look at them! I didn’t choose those, please…But I said, ‘Can I just hit the kids every now and then? I mean, real life!’ They wouldn’t let me.”

gwen_ifillTrailblazing Journalist Gwen Ifill (Bio) (1955-2016) is a mentor to many including CNN host Don Lemon, NBC journalist Yvette Miley, Kim Godwin, CBS news producer, Joy Reid, April Ryan, White House Correspondent, Shawna Thomas, journalist, Joey Cole, news producer, Rashida Jones, news editor, Audie Cornish, news host, among others. Ms. Ifill became the first African American woman to host a nationally televised U.S. public affairs program with Washington Week in Review. Fellow journalist Hari Sreenivasan said “There is a professional ladder in this business, but, as a journalist of color, what she impressed upon me, as a friend and a mentor, is that it’s not just enough to climb that ladder. It’s about making sure that you pull someone else up, and then they pull someone else up along the way.”

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Additional examples of mentoring can be found in the Peer Resources Mentorpairs Database.

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