Invest In Women

04.05.134:50 PM ET

Women in the World Summit 2013: How to Build a Woman Leader

All the Lean In talk is great, but first girls and women must be in a position to put that mantra into practice—and that’s where mentoring comes in.

It’s a Lean In moment for the global women’s movement, to borrow the phrase du jour from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, but the question remains: how do we best help and teach an ambitious woman to do said leaning, whether she’s in America’s boardrooms or in the developing world, where far greater challenges exist for female participation in government, business, and other aspects of public life?

Enter the Vital Voices Global Partnership, led by president and CEO Alyse Nelson. Her not-for-profit—cofounded by former ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton—is working to connect women around the world with mentors who can share expertise, encourage dreams, and stand beside their protégés in success.

One such dynamic duo was on display at the fourth-annual Women in the World Summit, during the Friday-afternoon panel, “How to Build a Woman Leader.” Bank of America’s Justine Metz, head of global wealth and investment marketing and sales support, connected via Vital Voices to Danielle Saint-Lôt, an ambassador-at-large for Haiti and the cofounder and special adviser of Femmes en Démocratie. The women spoke with Nelson and moderator Gillian Tett about the importance of reaching out to other women, and why, as Nelson says, “mentoring isn’t just the nice thing to do. It’s a real strategy that produces real results.”

All the “Lean In” talk is great, but first women must be in a position to put that mantra into practice.

Metz and Saint-Lôt first partnered up when the latter realized she needed expertise in marketing and branding to better help her Caribbean country—and Haitian women—flourish. “Alyse sent me a list of potential mentors. I said, ‘Justine, wow, she’s the mentor I need,” Saint-Lôt told Tett. “She knows about branding and marketing and that’s something I don’t know. I’m not even on Facebook and Twitter.”

Meanwhile, Metz had been talking to Bank of America’s global strategy and marketing officer, Anne Finucane, and she’d decided that Haiti was a place where “we could make a difference,” Metz said. She pointed out that Saint-Lôt had already been “an amazingly accomplished woman” before the mentorship ever took place. Her role was to “help Danielle continue the momentum that she had already started before we had even gotten there.”

To Saint-Lôt, that momentum could be super-charged if she could learn to speak the language of corporate America and woo investors to her poor nation. “Here you have, for the first time, corporate America looking at Haiti with different eyes,” she said. “It was very important for me as a leader to speak the language that Justine speaks every day.” One of the projects that the two collaborated on—a memo to Haiti’s president to convince him to add more women to his cabinet—ended up having a real impact.

Throughout, Metz served as a supporter, a cheerleader, and a discerning eye. But both women stressed that the relationship was horizontal, rather than vertical. “It’s not about the mentor, but the mentee,” Metz said. “The mentee defines the relationship. Danielle clearly defined what she needed. And she told me what she needed from me ... ‘mentee/mentor’ implies a hierarchical structure, but it’s an equal relationship. This is a partnership.”

Nelson agreed with their assessment: “It’s not about the person standing in front of you,” she said. “It’s really about the person, like Justine, who’s ready to stand behind you. Who believes in your vision and is ready to help you move forwards.”

The result, Nelson said, is a partnership that can become “an essential actualizing strategy—a building block of change and growth ... mentorship leads to leadership. It’s absolutely critical—we’re here because we don’t just want women to have presence; we want women to have power, in terms of leadership and in terms of voice.”

For a prime example, look no further than Nelson herself. “I’m a product of mentoring,” she told the audience. “I was mentored for years by Melanne Verveer, who, I think, saw leadership in me far before I saw it in myself.” Now, she knows that “I can’t pay it back. So I have to pay it forward. And that’s the power of mentoring—it’s cyclical. If you were mentored, you will go out and mentor others.”

And indeed, Saint-Lôt has already started to pay it forward in Haiti. “I have one of my mentees who is the chief of staff of the president,” she says. “The most important thing is to give women the opportunity, like Vital Voices does, to be in a network.”

“It’s a journey,” Saint-Lôt said. “For life.”