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Season 2, Episode 3: Transcript


Veanne Smith:  Welcome to another episode of Atlanta Business Impact Radio. I’m your host Veanne Smith. I’m so glad that you have chosen to listen to our program today. In this episode we talk about mentorship and the skills and insights women and men need in order to succeed in their careers.

I’m so excited to welcome Helene Lawless from Pathbuilders as our guest today to talk on this topic. Helene is the president and CEO of Pathbuilders, a company that delivers high impact mentoring programs leveraging a proprietary mentor/mentee matching process, structured programming, innovative workshops and partnership coaching for the four key stages of a woman’s career.

Helene is a thought leader in the talent development industry. She is frequently invited to speak on the topics of mentoring, women in the workplace and career planning. She has been published in HR Magazine, Diversity Executive, and Talent Management and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal.

Hello, Helene. Welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio.

Helene:            Hey Veanne, excited to be here. Thanks for having me. Kudos for doing this. I think this is a great idea.

Veanne:           Oh thanks, I appreciate that. That means a lot coming from you. I just want to start and say wow. I can’t believe that Pathbuilders is in its 21st year. I remember us meeting back in the day when you were getting things off the ground.

Congratulations on all your success.

Helene:            Thanks very much. If you’d asked me if I would still be here doing this then, I don’t know what my answer would have been. It’s been exciting to see the growth and to work with so many amazing people.

How Did You Transition From Engineering to the CEO of a Mentoring and Talent Development Organization?

Veanne:           I understand that. I remember when we were in a small group working through a lot of issues, getting businesses off the ground. I would always go “Gosh, I wonder how that’s going to be successful.”

I knew with you at the helm it was going to do great things. You’ve done as much as I thought if not more. Congratulations on all that. It’s really been fun watching you. Let’s kind of get started on kind of your background.

You have an interesting background. You have a master’s degree in chemical engineering. You spent the first 12 years working with BP and Amoco. I think it would be interesting to hear, given your engineering background —

How did you actually transition into becoming the CEO of a mentoring and talent development organization?

Helene:            Yeah, it’s interesting. I will tell you it’s a question I’m often asked. People kind of approach it from the “Oh my gosh, it’s so radically different.” It’s funny when you live the life as opposed to looking at it from the outside.

To me, I feel like everything I did in my career at Amoco and BP prepared me for exactly where I am today. It’s interesting. I was always just a technically-minded person and did my bachelor’s and master’s in engineering.

I immediately did really technical work. If I’m being honest, my bosses were always a little confused as to what to do with me because I could communicate in a way a lot of my peers could not.

They were kind of always trying to find the right niche for me. I had a tremendous career at Amoco and BP, just lots of different work. I spent some time in marketing. I spent some time doing merger acquisition work.

I did lots of different things. Gosh, 18 years ago they had placed me in a mentoring program that is now one of the mentoring programs we lead. The gentleman who was my mentor is still my mentor.

Separate from that I realize now that I look back at it — I’ve always been a problem solver. I had the opportunity to work in a really male-dominated environment. I think it just gave me a lot of insight into how corporate politics work and how careers work.

It’s funny. Outside looking in people always think “Gosh, it’s such a radical change you made in your career.” Living it and being on the inside of it I feel like all of that just prepared me to do exactly what I do today.

Veanne:           I can relate. I think you and I — you’re reminding me how similar that our early career days were. I also come from a technical background and had a lot of these other people skills.

I was a problem solver. It’s just interesting. I do think opportunities in your weavings really set the course, right?

Helene:            Right.

Veanne:           I always give advice to young people, a lot of times women for example, who tend to shy away from a technical degree or whatever. I say “It depends on what’s inside your heart and soul.

You can leverage that to go so many different directions.”

Helene:            I can even remember I would go back to campus and do recruiting and interacting with people. So often people would think there’s this narrow lane that when you have a degree in an area — especially I think with an awful lot of technical careers —

Certainly, I say this to young engineers, it’s a way of thinking. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to spend all of your time balancing mass and energy. There are other things, just the whole concept —

My team today would tell you that because of my problem-solving skills, I’ll look at an issue like credibility and influence and think “Okay, so what are the building blocks of credibility and influence?

What’s the path we need to put people on to establish credibility by building relationships and learning to communicate?” It’s just solving a different kind of problem thought process.

Veanne:           Right. That leads into what you’re doing today, right? Then you can use that to apply to the training that you do in mentoring, right?

Helene:            Right.

Veanne:           Very interesting. I always think that if many of us sort of just realize, look at what opportunities are presented, many times it can cause a total pivot in your career. It doesn’t maybe seem like a pivot to you —

Just all your experiences together ending up being a pivot to what led you to become the CEO of a mentoring company.

Learning How to Tell Your Story

Helene:            It did. It’s so funny though. One of the elements we do some programming around is how important it is to learn to tell your own story. It actually comes from a situation based on what you just said.

Probably 10 years ago, there was some program that they were doing. There was something they were going to write an article — They said, “Gosh, we’d like to write an article about you.

I had a great interview. I thought I was  in that neat. The article came out. I remember just being crushed. The title was something along the lines of what an incredibly radical career change this person has made in a way that literally stole credibility.

It was almost positioned as “How could she possibly be capable of doing this work?”

Veanne:           Taking offense to that, right?

Helene:            Exactly. I remember thinking to myself “Shame on me that I’m not telling the story in a way of ‘These are the steps I’ve taken to prepare me to do the work that I’ve done and why it makes sense now to be doing that work as opposed to —

I remember thinking shame on me that I wasn’t couching that in the right language to be able to demonstrate that so that it didn’t look like something radical or crazy.

Veanne:           Right. The power of being such a good storyteller, it taught you how important it was to be able to do that powerful storytelling, to own it.

Helene:            It’s so important for us in the workplace.

Veanne:           Yes.

Helene:            Yeah.

Veanne:           Storytelling is critical. Really it’s a gifted skill that you have, and many others who do well and do great things. Kind of along those lines, I know that you were a mentee.

Helene:            I was.

How Did Being a Mentee Impact You?

Veanne:           Today you have mentees in your program. Did you learn anything? Was there anything still significant that you still take today that changed you, a lightbulb moment, anything you want to share?

Helene:            Completely, yeah. The gentleman that I was matched with to be my mentor also — I specifically wanted somebody who had lived in both the technical side and on the business side.

I was matched with this amazing man named Chuck Papageorgiou, who’s still my mentor.

Veanne:           I love that name.

Helene:            He does too.

Veanne:           That’s a brand in itself.

Helene:            Yeah. There are days that I called — Chuck is now a great friend. There are days that I call him on the phone and it’s his friend Helene calling. Then there are days I call him on the phone and it’s his mentee Helene calling.

I want to make that very clear in the first few seconds who’s calling. He contends that with each person he mentors there’s always a single question that that person needs to be asked. He’ll often say it takes a little while to figure out what that question is.

In essence you really need to ask that person that question a lot of times. He jokes for me that question was —

Veanne:           What was the question?

Helene:            So what?

Veanne:           Ah, so what?

Helene:            Very profound. Literally, I was at a point in my career where I had kind of defined a box for myself and had this view of “This is what the organization sees me doing. This is the runway that I have inside the organization.”

He would just frequently say “so what?” What if you did put your name in the hate for that other role? What if you did ask to work on that project?

Literally, I would even push back and say “Oh, I don’t think they think of me that way. I think they’d be surprised if I was interested in that position.” Ultimately he would just get me to a point where I would realize it’s not like the company is going to go bankrupt if I apply for this.

It’s not like I’m going to lose my — literally just getting me to think about myself differently. I think it was just such an incredible gift he gave me to start to think about myself differently so that I could take on other issues.

I never would have done the broad number of things I did at BP were it not for his urging.

Veanne:           If he had not asked you “so what?”

Helene:            So what, yeah.

What Are the Challenges With Offering a Mentor Program?

Veanne:           I love it. It’s so simple, very, very good. Let’s segue a little bit. We’re going to talk about mentoring today. Let’s kind of talk about mentoring as a broad subject here.

Based on your experience, what are some of the challenges that you have seen or are seeing in organizations today that they’re facing when they embark on actually offering a mentorship program?

I would imagine it’s not maybe as easy as we think it is for a large organization to define it, run it and make it successful.

Helene:            It’s interesting. It does take a lot of work for a program to be successful. I think people can themselves take on mentoring relationships. To really programmatically move the needle and to feel that you’re really creating a mentoring culture and that you’re engaging your leaders in developing talent takes work.

It’s interesting. We have only over the years increased the structure and the rigor that we’ve put into mentoring simply because people are just busy. People are busy doing the work. You’ve got to do [crosstalk] something in the business.

You’ve got to do something to make it simple for people.

Veanne:           Hold them accountable?

Helene:            Even provide a net to help them understand what’s inbounds and what’s out of bounds and how to keep things moving forward. We will sometimes use a phrase that —

One of the things that’s most important when you’re in a mentoring program is just regular communication. I hate to sound silly, but it’s to remind people they’re in a mentoring program.

We all have a lot of really busy things to do. It’s interesting. We feel strongly that there are a few things that make mentoring programs great. One is really thinking about the match.

Most studies will tell you that we rarely select the best mentors for ourselves. We are just more prone to select somebody who pats us on the head and makes us feel good.

Veanne:           Somebody that likes you.

Helene:            I think chemistry is a little overrated, quite frankly. You used the word “push.” It really is about somebody who pushes you outside of your comfort zone. That’s the best match for you.

People also need to be trained on “What is my role as a mentee? What’s my role as a mentor?” We find that they also just need people checking in, the engagements there. People are moving forward.

One of the things we’ll see a lot is without structure — Mentees and mentors will always have a great first meeting. There’s always this pent-up list of “I know I want to talk about this, this and this.”

Sometimes that lasts into a second meeting. Without some structure or what we call “content…” We like to bring content into mentoring. Without that what we see is at meeting number three you have two people kind of looking at each other.

They aren’t entirely sure what they should be talking about.

Veanne:           They’re not saying “So what?” but “Now what?”

Helene:            Yes. What we’ll see is two things happen at that juncture. If there isn’t something that propagates staying engaged with meaty issues or long-term issues, one of two things happens.

One is that suddenly the conversation becomes “Oh my gosh, let me tell you what happened on Tuesday.” The scope of what you’re talking about in the partnership becomes very short-term.

The other thing that can happen is just the slow beginning of disengagement happening. You skip one meeting. Maybe you miss another. We’ve found that you’ve got to infuse ideas around talking about influence and credibility, talking about executive presence, talking about career planning or negotiation, some sort of big, meaty issue that drives two people to have a career-focused conversation.

Veanne:           Do you drive the ideas to the mentor or to the mentor and the mentee separately? What’s your channel?

Helene:            It’s great, different forms. In a program, we are big fans of bringing people together periodically. When we can do that in a workshop format, that can be great. Sometimes it’s via webinar.

It’s however you can get folks to engage based upon where they are. Sometimes it’s just building meaningful discussion guides. You’re really equipping people with great ways to start a conversation.

So often it’s starting the conversation. So often it’s “I don’t know where to begin in talking about something like executive presence and just having a few questions to jumpstart that conversation.”

Then it can propagate. The other things mentors will tell us is that they use it to steer back. If we’ve gotten a little bit too far field and we’re just not sure we’re having meaty conversation again, let’s [crosstalk] circle back to —

Veanne:           Put the scope around this, control it.

Helene:            It’s funny. The whole concept of discussion guides emerged — Gosh, this is now back five to 6 years ago. We were doing a project inside the US Army. The mentees were all colonel-equivalent civilians.

The mentors were all general-equivalent civilians. What was happening was the mentees would get busy. They would cancel a meeting with the mentor. The mentors at this level if you cancel a meeting it’s not like you’re going to get back on the calendar.

You’re just in essence giving up one of your meetings. We just thought to ourselves, “What could we do to make sure there’s never a reason to cancel a meeting for preparedness?”

We started building these mentoring modules thinking “Okay, this is way too much. Professionals are never going to want this degree of detail.”

Since then we have only done more of that. Again, people are busy. They want to have meaningful conversation. How can we support them in doing that?

Veanne:           I was wondering if you were going to have repercussions and put in “If you don’t do this, you don’t make your meeting, then give me 20 sit-ups.”

Helene:            Okay, if that was happening, we don’t know anything about it.

The Four Stages of Mentoring at Pathbuilders

Veanne:           Anyway, that’s very interesting. Let’s talk about Pathbuilders, your mentorship program. I think I understand. I’ve known about your firm for a while.

I think you have four stages.

Helene:            We do.

Veanne:           Maybe you might want to talk about that a little bit.

Helene:            Sure. The roots of the company were really focused on women who were mid-level managers but seen to have executive-level possibilities, executive-level potential inside [crosstalk] their organizations.

What we quickly ascertained was if you’re serious about building a gender-diverse senior leadership team, it’s just too late to start. We quickly started stepping back and saying “Okay, if you want to build a gender-diverse senior leadership team, what are the building blocks?

What’s the pipeline to actually get to that point?’ After doing it, a fair amount of research and focus-group work identified what we really see as four key career stages. There’s the entry-level person who really wants to make a mark and stand out.

They need to learn how business works. There’s the new manager learning to manage projects and people. Then there is that mid-level manager thinking across functions, becoming an executive.

Then there’s a senior-level individual creating a vision pushing people to achieve great things. Perhaps birth out of birth out of working in our early stages really only with women, one of the things we started to see propagate was when you have women at different levels together and women just being nurturing, generative people, the more experienced women would naturally fall into a mentoring role with the more junior women.

If we had too many stages represented, what would happen is the most senior women in the world lose the opportunity to actually be mentees.

Veanne:           Got you, okay, right.

Helene:            They just start naturally helping the other women around them.

Veanne:           They’re being women.

Helene:            Right? We needed to peel off those other levels to make sure there was something specifically for them and their development.

Veanne:           Mentees in your program do not have to start at the first. They can start midway.

Helene:            They do not. It’s about meeting each woman where she is.

Veanne:           They don’t have to start at the beginning.

Helene:            We have a couple who have actually gone through one, two and three. It’s been interesting just in the amount of time we’ve had the model in place. It’s exciting to us when that happens.

Certainly it’s not a requirement.

What are Your Favorite Success Stories at Pathbuilders?

Veanne:           I would think given how long you’ve done this — think how rewarding it would be — you have to have some stories that stand out of maybe success or helping someone overcome some challenge they were struggling with.

Are there any stories or anything?

Helene:            I have two. One interestingly is a mentee. One is a mentor.

Veanne:           Perfect.

Helene:            A woman that we were working with — this is back probably three or 4 years ago at the level three program — on her organization’s executive team but kind of a more junior member of the executive team, really rough and tumble sort of culture — very cowboy sort of —

Veanne:           Like cowboy, you mean?

Helene:            Yeah, very kind of loud, boisterous —

Veanne:           Guns blazing?

Helene:            Yeah. She recognized she wasn’t being heard. She was having a lot of trouble getting traction. Working together with her mentor — Her mentor helped her understand “Okay, you’ve got to find a way to be heard.”

She’s at a senior leadership team meeting. They literally practiced this. She’s at a senior leadership team meeting. It’s happening again. There’s starting to go down a path.

She knows it’s the wrong way. She’s trying to insert herself. They’re just not hearing her. She literally pushes back from the table, stands up, raises her voice and says “Now you can definitely go down that path as long as you’re willing to accept the ramifications of what our competitors are going to do with pricing.”

Veanne:           Very nice.

Helene:            She is shaking uncontrollably on the inside.

Veanne:           Of course.

Helene:            She sits down. People kind of sit back and start listening to her. I just consider it one of the most enormous successes. Before the day was out, three members of the executive team had walked by her office and said, “That thing you did today, that was really cool.”

She never would have —

Veanne:           Did you teach her how to move away from the desk?

Helene:            Literally her mentor roleplayed it with her.

Veanne:           There was a roleplay?

Helene:            It was.

Veanne:           Awesome. There’s so much value to roleplaying.

Helene:            She was terrified. Without it, she never would have done it.

Veanne:           That’s awesome.

Helene:            My goofy story of a mentor — some of our programs are group mentoring programs. There will be two or three mentees with a common issue matched together. Then that group is matched with a mentor.

We have a mentor who has mentored with us for several years. She will tell this funny story about how one of the days her mentees were all talking about her bosses and this really annoying thing that their bosses did.

She’s sitting there kind of coaching them through having a conversation about it. The whole time she’s thinking to herself, “Yeah, I’d do that.”

Veanne:           That’s me. That’s me.

Helene:            I’d do that.

Veanne:           I’m guilty.

Helene:            Apparently that’s annoying. I didn’t know that was annoying. Now I’m very clear that that’s annoying,

Veanne:           Great for her to take away for her — awesome.

Helene:            Yeah, I’m convinced that’s when we secured her as a mentor.

Veanne:           I’m sure.

Helene:            The fact that she had such a learning experience from that.

How Has Mentoring Changed in the Past 10 to 20 Years?

Veanne:           Very nice. I love the stories. Let’s talk about change. We’ve had so much change the last ten to 20 years. I wonder how your mentorship program has had to adjust to things like the growing number of employees that work remotely today, the fact that millennials are now the largest generation in the workplace, not to mention all the technology gadgets and access to information through mobile devices.

Has this had impacts, either negatively or positively, on the ability to empower women in the workplace in your opinion?

Helene:            Yeah, it’s interesting. I think it has changed mechanisms. I will also tell you that there is a degree of almost pulling back from some of that in the mentoring space.

What we see is more and more, just because people are remote and across such geographies, mentees and mentors are not co-located and have to leverage technology for their relationship.

Veanne:           You use technology to help your programs.

Helene:            Certainly we do. A lot of times our content delivery will be via webinar as well. What’s interesting is we find, and we’ll work very hard with our clients to do this, we find that you’ve got to establish trust in person.

One of the mentoring programs a couple of years ago, the mentees literally were spread across five different continents. We worked with them to time their kickoff and to really structure their kickoff so that everyone could come together for a day, meet face to face, really build that trusting relationship —

Then I feel like you can leverage technology to maintain the relationship. It’s just really hard to establish like the real trust that’s required in a mentoring relationship without some degree of face to face.

Veanne:           Google Hangout —

Helene:            I was just about to say we actually have started to do a fair number of our interviews using Google Chat or Skype or something. Phone is stuff.

Veanne:           I would think. It has to be.

Helene:            It’s interesting. One of the things that we see — I don’t know what this is. I’m sure a psychologist could help us to better understand it. One of the challenges we see in partnerships that have a lot of their mentoring conversation via telephone when they aren’t actually having any video representation of each other is they tend to spend more time speaking in platitudes as opposed to stories.

“I always try to do this” or “Sometimes I do that” as opposed to”Let me tell you what happened when I was in this…” The real power of mentoring is in that storytelling.

I don’t know if it’s just that we think about being efficient when we’re on the phone. I don’t know if it propagates us speaking in generalities more. Literally we have to work with folks to say “If you’re using the phone…”

You need a little cheat sheet. You need to remember to tell stories. You need to focus on relationship. It’s just interesting that that’s different.

Veanne:           I totally understand it. As we were chatting before we got on air here today, we were all telling stories around the table. As soon as we put the mic on we tend to get a little bit more stilted.

Helene:            It’s exactly the same.

Veanne:           It is the same thing. We talked earlier, the power of storytelling. If we all relate to stories we get sucked into stories. As business owners and on websites, the more you can tell stories, the more people are going to relate to you.

I would imagine that mentoring is even more important.

Helene:            And the connection.

Veanne:           Yeah.

Helene:            The other change I will tell you that we have seen is just in general as people have gotten busier they rely on structure more. We joke. We have these things called “Pathbuilder-isms.” One of our Pathbuilder-isms —

Veanne:           I thought they were Helenisms.

Helene:            I have Helenisms too. I also have Pathbuilder-isms. One is that structure mitigates discomfort. There’s just something about having a structure for “Here’s how we have our mentoring meeting” that allows us to get to a more vulnerable place.

What’s interesting is as people have gotten busier and busier, we have only added structure. There’s just something about if it’s on the calendar and I know I’m doing this and I have a guy that I’m using, then there’s a safety that allows me to actually have a meaty conversation as opposed to it just being another thing on the list that I’m trying to fit in.

Veanne:           And nobody is prepared.

Helene:            And nobody is prepared, yeah. It’s just interesting.

Veanne:           Well, we start as babies. We all say as parents we need the structure. We start needing structure from the very beginning.

Helene:            The schedule, yeah.

What Advice Do You have For Women Who Do Not Have Access to a Mentoring Program?

Veanne:           It’s definitely more impactful. Life is easier when you have some structure. You’ve become so popular, and everyone knows who you are now. I imagine you get women approaching you who just probably come to you struggling with various aspects in their career.

What advice might you give to those folks who don’t have the benefit of a mentorship program being offered within the organization? Do you have any advice for those that come to you?

Helene:            It’s interesting. One of the things we will sometimes joke about is there is just something scary about the word “mentor.” We will sometimes joke that as many definitions of the word mentor walk in a room when we’re launching a program as people walk in a room.

I typically guard against someone saying “Will you be my mentor?” Sometimes you’ll be speaking at an event and someone will come up to you afterward and say “Will you be my mentor?”

That’s a tall order. I do think however that seeking opportunities for informal mentoring makes a lot of sense. I just think it has to be approached much more from the “I was really interested in what it is you had to say about this element.

I would love to have a [crosstalk] conversation about this. Could I buy you a cup of coffee to…?” — Yes. If that goes well — Gosh, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation we’ve had.

It would be wonderful if we could do this again sometime. Would you be open to me reaching out and scheduling some time?

Veanne:           That makes sense.

Helene:            I will say though that even if that’s the structure that makes sense for you, you still have to think about it like it’s a program. You still have to think about it as in “What are the goals I have for this?

What is success going to feel like?” Sometimes people will have this bright-eyed view of “gosh, anything I could learn from a mentor would be so wonderful.” While that feels, I suppose, complimentary that you’re saying it, in reality it’s just really hard to assess your progress on that.

It’s really hard to know “when am I done?” if it’s anything I could possibly learn. As opposed to saying “Gosh, I would really love to better understand the way you’ve done this” or “I would love to have a conversation about that” and thinking about it from a goal standpoint so that there’s a natural endpoint.

Veanne:           I think there are some alternatives. I do think that maybe a coach for something — I think that sometimes I will hear folks that don’t have a mentorship program will seek out a coach.

I think there are some professionals that do that as well.

Helene:            A lot. I think there’s a big difference between coaching and mentoring. We work with some phenomenal coaches. Coaches are typically accountable to whoever has hired them.

Veanne:           True.

Helene:            There is just a dynamic around that. In its purest sense, the mentor is accountable to the mentee. It always makes me a little bit nervous when people say my boss is my mentor.

At the end of the day you may have a wonderful boss who may care very much about you.

Veanne:           They’re still your boss.

Helene:            A, they’re still your boss. B, they’re accountable. They’ve taken on the mantle of reporting to an organization that they’re accountable to, just thinking about those different roles.

You were going down the path of different ways to seek that sort of experiential learning. I think there are a lot of great programmatic elements inside organizations. One of our clients has a shadow program where you just have the opportunity to follow a leader in the organization for a day and have literally the experiential moments of seeing them in action and being able to ask questions.

All sorts of elements like that I think are great. To me the connect point through all of them is the experiential learning. It’s not just somebody telling you what happened. It’s actually being in the place of storytelling.

Yeah, being in the place of storytelling or story-seeing.

Veanne:           Good, good, good. Alright, let’s not leave out the men.

Helene:            Sure, yeah.

Do Men Have Different Mentoring Needs

Veanne:           Curious from your perspective, do you think that they face similar or different challenges today in terms of being empowered to lead in the workplace? I’m just curious.

I know we’ve talked a lot about women. I’m not sure 100 percent, but I think you also have men in your programs now.

Helene:            We do, yeah.

Veanne:           Did you have to come up with a whole new curriculum for the…? [Laughter][29:34]

Helene:            It’s a great question. More than half of our revenue is still focused on gender-specific programs focused on women. Completely honesty is was a reaction to our clients — probably close to 10 years ago now clients started reaching out to us and saying “That stuff you do when we send women to you, our men need that also.”

It’s interesting. The actual elements of curriculum — You’ve heard me talking about it. We talk about things like credibility and influence. We talk about negotiation. We talk about relationship building and networking.

All of these elements that are —

Veanne:           Agnostic.

Helene:            There’s nothing gender-specific to any of those elements.

Veanne:           Right.

Helene:            I will say that there is a conversation that women will have when only women are in the room that just won’t happen when women and men are in the room. Interestingly, men don’t have any trouble having that conversation with women present.

We as women just creating an environment — So much of certainly the structure and methodology around how mentoring happens and even the content directly applies. A lot of our work now is mentoring programs where we’re working with both men and women.

In the vein of storytelling, clearly one of my favorite stories was when we were doing the work with the US Army a gentleman was an incredibly talented logistician. He was really seeking an opportunity to perform at a higher level.

He had applied at a number of different roles and just did not understand why he was not being considered for these higher-level roles. We go through a very rigorous matching process when we’re putting mentees and mentors together.

He’d been active. He’s retired military, now a civilian — big guy, big tough guy.

Veanne:           I’d love to see the mentor.

Helene:            We matched him with — She was about 5’2″ and had never actually been active herself. She was a career civilian. I will tell you, if you walk around the pentagon with that woman — She was speaking to every other doorway.

Her network was so expansive inside the pentagon. I matched them together. I have to tell you. This guy Charlie is looking at me like “I’m sorry, what? This is who I am matched with?”

It makes me so happy to say in 7 months he was promoted to a senior level.

Veanne:           Aw, that’s great.

Helene:            He had never invested in really consciously building the network and really consciously building all of those relationships so that when you’re applying for the job you’re already a part of the connectivity of the group as opposed to it being “Who is this guy?

We don’t know him.” It’s one of my favorite stories. The dynamics of the relationship building and what a mentor can bring, there’s nothing gender-specific to that.

Veanne:           Right, I get it. It’s a great ending. I think maybe we’ll stop there, Helene, unless there’s anything else. I know you’ve got so many other things you’re busy with these days.

Is there anything else you wanted to cover that we have not covered today?

The Importance of Philanthropic Work

Helene:            The only other thing I would toss out is how important it is as people grow as leaders to find a way to develop themselves through philanthropic work.

Veanne:           Good. You’re doing a lot of that.

Helene:            For me it’s just something I’m very passionate about. I also think, A, as leaders getting involved in your community and seeking ways to have leadership roles that might be different from your work is particularly important.

I would also say, with an Atlanta focus, philanthropy really is the business language of Atlanta. There is just something about the expectations that this community has in its leaders around philanthropic leadership that —

A, it’s unbelievable rewarding to do. B, it’s just a great way to build different skills and bring that back to your workplace.

Veanne:           There’s a lot of reward that comes both sides. Do you think it’s important to find something from a philanthropic perspective that you’re passionate about?

Helene:            I do. We’re busy people.

Veanne:           You need to find something you feel strongly about.

Helene:            Exactly. If you don’t care about it, you’re not going to make the time to actually do it.

Veanne:           It’s really not that hard. Just think about it  what’s important to you, right?

Helene:            I often find that it’s a way to connect with people at a much higher pay grade also. When you have a connectivity where you care about some issue, so many of those barriers come down.

You’re able to build relationships in a really different way.


Veanne:           Great advice. I’m glad you added that at the end. For anyone listening that would like to learn more about Pathbuilders, connect with you, seek any advice, what’s the best way that they can reach out to you?

Helene:            Terrific,

Veanne:           Very easy, alright. It’s been such a pleasure to catch back up with you.

Helene:            Likewise.

Veanne:           It’s been a while — incredible information. I know it’s going to be very valuable to people who are listening. Thanks so much for making the time today.

Helene:            Thanks for doing this.

Woman:           You have been listening to Atlanta Business Impact Radio with Veanne Smith. This program is brought to you by SolTech. For more information about the podcast including other episodes, you can visit our website at or find us on iTunes.

Thank you for listening. We look forward to having you join us again.

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