Rather than interrogate herself with the common logistical thoughts about the responsibilities of a mentor, Denise Menelly ushers in her role with a ruminative question - What kind of mentor am I ?
“I believe mentoring is a two-way street. I always learn something from the people I mentor,” says Menelly, Global Technology and Operations Shared Service Operations Executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She’s one of the eight mentors for the Global Ambassadors Program (GAP), an initiative by Bank of America and Vital Voices to promote economic empowerment for women leaders. Recently, the program focused on women leaders across the Middle East and North Africa, connecting influential female executives from the private sector with emerging leaders from the MENA region for one-on-one mentoring sessions and participation in the Qatar International Businesswomen’s Forum, an annual gathering to create opportunities for Arab businesswomen.
Before her one-week confab on mentoring in Qatar, Denise’s company held screenings of Girl Rising. The girls in the film are paired with acclaimed writers from their native countries. The Global Ambassadors Program similarly puts community leadership at the forefront of its objectives, pairing women with women. “There’s no doubt that there is some commonality for what it takes to be successful. Sometimes people’s drive and passion gets bigger than them and they’re not quite prepared to carry the load to organize. They need an action plan to expand. So many people get inspired by the passionate voice that a women leader brings but the practical reality of being able to take something forward is that you still have to have an action plan. You have to understand budgeting, hiring, picking volunteers, coaching, and developing staff,” Menelly said.
Bank of America chose Denise after an extensive interview where she recapped her 30 years of work in the financial services, working globally on projects. The mentees already run small businesses and social enterprises across MENA but all the women are looking to sharpen their skills. Denise will be helping a women from Palestine territory improve her overall business performance, skill-building, critical communications, advocacy and strategies needed to advance her company.
Discussions will focus on ways to develop and harness the leadership potential of Arab businesswomen, the value of identity and leadership style, the opportunities to remove barriers that prevent women from becoming leaders in business and social activities, the ideas for entrepreneurship and innovation among women, and the profiles of women visionaries.
These mentors may one day become sponsors. “As a sponsor, you have to give very public support aside from meeting with them privately. To be able to sing their praises and have others see the value in them is helping them to get jobs.”
A press release for the initiative included facts from a World Bank study which said the MENA region has made progress in reducing the gender gap in the area of education, and today, almost all young girls attend primary school and more women than men are enrolled in universities. Despite this advancement, women are entering the MENA labor market at half the global rate- only 18.4 percent of the female adult population is economically active.
Menelly is also head of the Women in Technology and Operations group at Bank of America. “I’m sick of hearing women compare themselves to each other. Women spend way too much time arguing instead of saying we all just need to support each other. Afterall, the men are still moving along. Get a bunch of smart women together who are passionate about women’s development and great things happen.”
This is the last Global Ambassadors Program to take place in 2013, with previous mentoring forums held this year in Singapore and Brazil. Future locations will be announced in early 2014.