Early in her career, Maxine Rich (pictured above), now the managing director of investment banking at Investec, worked at the law firm Freehills. Her boss was David Gonski, now one of the most powerful businessmen in the land. Gonski helped guide and develop Rich, and the experience left a powerful impression on her, giving her confidence and opening up career opportunities.
“I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks for women is not realising how good they are,” Rich says.
It’s one of the reasons for Rich’s involvement in a new initiative to mentor women to supercharge their businesses, called Springboard Enterprises. The program matches women who have started businesses with women with extensive commercial experience, including Rich and others such as Carol Schwartz, a non-executive director for property development company, Stockland.
Schwartz is behind a number of initiatives to improve opportunities for women at every level of business, and to increase the profile of women in the media, through her involvement in the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, and Women for Media.
Schwartz, a lawyer who at 23 started an aerobics and dance studio, did so without the benefit of outside guidance. She says: “Having been through the experience as a female entrepreneur, I would have really benefited from having a mentor – a woman who could help me work through the issues that I was facing and was going to face.”
Schwartz says her husband was terrific, but a mentor’s role is different. “It is about having someone not related to you, as someone who could bounce your ideas off, and be more objective about feedback.”
Taking time from busy schedules
Both Schwartz and Rich have developed into mentors for personal reasons, too.
Says Schwartz: “I just love people. I love meeting interesting people and discussing ideas and business with them. It broadens my thinking and exposes me to new things and new ways of seeing things. It is incredibly symbiotic.”
Rich says the mentoring adds meaning to her success. “The higher up the ladder you go, the more you want to help. Because once you get to a certain level, you can do another deal and do it well, you can get another board seat and do it well. But your greater contribution is how many other people you can help along the way.”
For mentors, seeing their mentees climb the ladder and succeed is a matter of personal pride.
Mentoring has always been a part of business, with senior men and women taking an interest in younger talented people on their staff or in their networks. For those who have achieved their ambitions, the help of mentors is typically seen as essential to their success.
Many men, however, express a degree of awkwardness about mentoring women, not wanting their professional interest to be misinterpreted by the mentee or their peers.