Laurie White

Why is mentorship important and how do you enact it in the world?

I would like to begin by thanking the YWCA for this special distinction and extending congratulations to my fellow honorees for their contributions to our community. This theme of “mentorship” is so vitally important to women, in particular, and I am eager to read and learn about others’ experiences.

In thinking about a message to convey, I thought it might be useful to point to the various types of mentoring opportunities. There are lots of derivations on the same theme, but at its essence is the willingness of a mentor to simply listen and to ignite a passion for the power of possibility. On the career front, a nonjudgmental confidante often can help extinguish a mentee’s persistent self-doubt and light the path to “thinking bigger.”

An excellent resource for comparing the myriad types of mentor/mentee relationships is the advocacy and professional development organization EDUCAUSE. On their website,, they neatly summarize the vast continuum of mentoring arrangements as well as the risks and the benefits to both parties.

To illustrate one style, a mentor that acts as a career “sponsor” nominates a junior colleague for desirable lateral moves and promotions, thus building a mentee’s reputation within the organization and affording the opportunity for exposure and visibility with key figures. The mentee develops the all-important informal knowledge of the organization which broadens perspective and enhances the ability to navigate internally. Sponsors also outline specific strategies for accomplishing work objectives and even shield the mentee from untimely or potentially damaging contact with senior managers by taking credit/blame in controversial situations or intervening when things go wrong.

On a less intensive level, “mentoring circles” are known to be gaining popularity. This dynamic allows for a peer mentoring support network for friends and/or colleagues. The relationships are reciprocal in nature. Members of the circle support each others’ professional and personal growth. Other styles of mentorship include minute mentors, invisible mentors and reverse mentors, with varying time commitments and organizational supports built in.

I have had the great fortune of being mentored and acting as a mentor. And there have been many relationships. As careers advance, different skills and personalities need to be accessed. I am extremely grateful to all of those individuals who have taken the time to push me beyond my perceived limits and to help me recover after a failure. As a mentor, myself, it is satisfying to be able to reciprocate and to tap into new and bigger thinking from emerging leaders.

And, if I am lucky, the cycle will repeat itself!

Laurie White is president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce — Rhode Island’s largest private sector business advocacy and economic development organization. The Chamber is the advocate for growing and protecting the business community in Rhode Island. A significant portion of the Chamber’s work over the last several years has been devoted to developing the state’s Knowledge Economy by driving entrepreneurship, medical, academic and industry collaboration, technology transfer; talent retention, competitive tax policy, niche industry identification and business recruitment. She is a frequent speaker on these subjects. White is an honors graduate of the University of Rhode Island where she received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism. She also actively participates in community and professional organizations as diverse as the University of Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Quality Institute.

photo by Agapao Productions