Desyre Blackburn ('17) Fund Sales Analyst, JP Morgan
Almost everyone needs a mentor sometime. It may be in the form of a coach, an instructor, a trainer, a guide, or a counselor. A mentee may be known as a protégé, an apprentice, a student, a trainee, or even a novice. No matter the labels, the combination of mentor and mentee typically enhances the development and experience of both parties, particularly the mentee.
This type of match-up provides the motivation behind the Financial Women's Association (FWA) Mentor Program. FWA is a nonprofit organization, headquartered in New York City, which consists of financial professionals (women and men) from all sectors of the financial services industry. Their mission is to enhance the role of women in finance. The FWA Mentor Program pairs outstanding students with experienced FWA businesswomen for the purpose of helping young women develop skills for success and guide them in launching their careers.
Mentoring young women is not necessarily a new concept. It not only fosters women in an oftentimes male-dominated work environment, but it sustains a pay-it-forward aspect to the community. Many famous "firsts" were mentored by someone who helped them achieve their goals and beyond.
For example, Amelia Earhart's mentor was Neta Snook, an aviatrix who met young Amelia in 1920, and taught her to fly a plane during that decade. Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, in 1937, which, unfortunately, ended in her tragic disappearance somewhere over the ocean. The point is that Amelia Earhart was first a mentee, who later blazed trails for other women to become future pilots. Before her demise in 1937, Earhart became a mentor to Helen Richey, the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the U.S. Earhart understood the meaning of mentoring other women who had dreams, a remarkable characteristic in the context of pre-World War II.
FWA and the Seton Hall connection:
In that same benevolent spirit of passing it on, the FWA New Jersey Committee established a mentoring program for undergraduate students at Seton Hall University more than six years ago. Young women majoring in finance, accounting, economics, and other business-related studies are selected to meet and interview with delegates of the FWA NJ, typically in their junior or senior (and occasionally sophomore) years. The students who are selected for the program are assigned a mentor with a significant amount of experience, who will engage with them during their undergraduate years to assist with their career goals.
To further emphasize the point, Stephanie Hauge (SHU alumnus) and member of the FWA Board of Directors, who was instrumental in founding the New Jersey Committee in 2001, says, "The FWA offers women opportunities to connect and give back. We welcome members with a diverse background, such as HR, finance, marketing, recruiting, legal and entrepreneurship. This makes our organization very dynamic."
One recent Stillman graduate and former Stillman mentee, Desyre Blackburn ('17), works for JP Morgan as a Funds Sales Analyst. Blackburn demonstrates how beneficial for women the FWA mentoring program can be. "There are two reasons," she says. "One, you meet other women in the career path you are considering, and two, it helps having a mentor who provides perspective." One of the main benefits, Blackburn discovered as a mentee, was that she was able to "determine where I fit in finance."
According to Donna Harris, Co-Chair of the FWA/SHU Mentoring Program and retired Chief Procurement Officer with Prudential Financial, "We mentor people who are motivated and want to be in the program and will have potential to be successful." In this academic year (2020-2021), there are 36 mentees and 28 mentors. "We try to take as many mentees as we can," she says. "Eight mentors have taken on two mentees this year."
Carol Doyle, Co-Chair, FWA/SHU Mentoring Program, and Private Wealth Associate, Merrill Lynch
Carol Doyle, Private Wealth Associate with Merrill Lynch, is also an FWA/SHU Mentoring Program Co-Chair. She relates, "One of the things we try to emphasize is, even though you have a one-on-one relationship with a mentor, you can access and contact other FWA mentors." The mentors represent all aspects of experience in financial services and financial roles in other industries. Doyle elaborates, "We [FWA mentors] have a wide range of expertise, everything from economics, finance, operations, fintech, accounting, and some IT people, and we encourage our mentees to reach out to other mentors. We try to match mentees with mentors who work in, or have experience in, a field related to their areas of interest."
Career networking and growth:
Not only does the mentoring program offer access to meet with other women in finance, it serves to provide women with opportunities to learn how to network effectively, how to present themselves, and current business topics of interest such as challenges, authenticity, career growth, handling stress, etc. Through speakers and workshops, (virtual events this year), the FWA shares business and confidence-building information. Recently, Jim Arnoff, career coach and FWA member, conducted virtual interactive coaching workshops, including, "Embracing What You Can Control in Your Career," "Lose the Fear, Gain the Power," and "Creating That Ideal Career in Your New World," among others. All mentees are invited to join these presentations.
In addition to events and workshops, Hauge notes, "The FWA in New Jersey, which is a regional committee of the FWA, has been growing and we do have some very committed members. To illustrate the commitment of these prestigious members, she cites, "The FWA has a number of President's Circle financial services firms that are its sponsors, including PGIM, Deloitte LLP, Citizens Bank, BNYMellon, MUFG, New York Life, Stifel, S&P Global, BNP Paribas, Wells Fargo Advisors, BMO Capital, SMBC and Metlife."
Caroline Weeks ('19), Financial Analyst, Amwell
Benefits and beyond:
Another recent Stillman graduate, Caroline Weeks ('19), whose career after graduation began as a Financial Analyst in Quest's Finance Leadership Program, was provided the opportunity with Quest to support a multi-million-dollar joint venture with the University of Massachusetts. During the summer of this year, she accepted a position as Financial Analyst at Amwell, a telehealth platform company, which went public in September. Weeks was able to work on projects associated with the IPO.
"My mentor," she exclaims, "has been an amazing resource for me over the past few years, and I am so thankful to call her my mentor and friend. We still keep in touch."
Joyce Strawser, Dean of the Stillman School of Business, underscores the power and strength of the relationships built through the FWA Mentor program. "We see these connections enduring over the years, with mentors and mentees maintaining regular contact and mentors returning year after year to coach new Stillman women."
All FWA mentors are volunteers who kindly give their time and energy to career-guiding their protégées. In the words of Amelia Earhart, one of many predecessors whose legacies have paved the way for young women worldwide, she speaks of kindness as a trait to pass on to others. "No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another," she said, with a belief in sharing her talents and insights with others. "Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees."
Weeks proves that theory. "My time in the FWA mentoring program had such a positive impact on me," she relates, "that I have looked for ways to pay it forward and give back to women in my community." Weeks is currently involved in volunteering with a nonprofit that teaches financial literacy to underprivileged women and girls.
From Strawser's perspective, the value of the FWA/SHU mentoring enterprise is ongoing. "Stillman alumnae who have participated in the program return to campus to share their experiences and insights with current mentees," says the Dean. "The program has built an impactful network that will help our students thrive in their personal and professional endeavors."
Indeed, the FWA mentors who are committed to sharing their talents and insights with others are planting roots of kindness in young women fortunate enough to be included in this altruistic program. By sharing their experiences and examples with the next generation of women in finance, new trees have begun sprouting in the financial world and will continue to spread more roots to subsequent generations.
For more information about the FWA New Jersey Committee, visit the website.