I remember my first day at my first internship when I was sixteen years old. The world felt big. The buildings were looming presences; I imagined them filled with all kinds of important people and with information swirling around inside them. I looked up to the women on the ⅘ express train downtown – with large chopped salads and larger tote bags – with the same sense of wonder that filled the faces of commuters who watched me retouch makeup at the tail end of a bumpy, hour-long commute.
I took my first internship in the Early Case Assessment Bureau (ECAB) with the District Attorney’s Office of Manhattan, and, throughout high school and college, seven internships followed. Until today, I did not realize that every single one of my direct supervisors – and often the department heads – were women.It matters. It’s important, and here are some of the reasons why:
Just like men, all women have different styles of working and different leadership qualities. All good leaders can manage, prioritize, praise, and empower you in their own way. But great leaders foster your curiosity, give you room to grow (and fail), and cheer-lead your accomplishments along the way.
I was able to see myself in their position in the future. When a supervisor mentors you, they take the time to tell their story, listen to yours, and help you along the path to imagining your next chapter. I felt understood by these powerful women. I was encouraged over coffees and lunches to bulldoze through life with my purpose front and center.
I learned from them how they didn’t just get respect, they oozed it. They demanded it in all kinds of subtle ways that only women know, because that was their true power: empathy. Not in the ‘we are all human’ kind of way, but through constantly scanning and assessing your external world for harm, for help, and for improvements, you inevitably forge a path. The woman leaders I was shown have these qualities through and through.
I noticed a pattern between all these different women. It didn’t matter that I did not end up on any of the same career paths as the women I worked for. It did matter immensely that they gave me their…
open, honest communication – real constructive criticism when needed, specific praise on good work, clear objectives and expectations on project assignments.
a preview of the road ahead – every workplace culture has unique quirks, every industry has tried-and-true standards, which privileged insiders know. Mentors teach them.
a sense of ownership – in both short-term projects and in growing a fulfilling career. Mentors elevate your accomplishments, and make them known. Mentors take the time to recommend the books, courses, and people needed to build out a dual-pronged skills- and network-based experience.
Above all else, mentors give you their time. When an intern learned I was changing departments, she half-wondered, half-assessed, “So you won’t be able to mentor us anymore?”
I assured her, “I’ll always have time.”