Learning & Development

Creating Community and Inspiration in the Workplace in 2023

If you were to ask me in my early twenties if women could have it all, I would have responded with a resounding “yes” and proceeded to tell you about all the ingredients in the recipe of success in life: a graduate degree; a loving partner; a high-powered professional career; a Pinterest-worthy home; and two or more well-adjusted, happy kids—all while maintaining a vibrant social life, a full night of rest, and what others fondly refer to as “balance.” Without missing a beat, I could have even rattled off a laundry list of women who cracked the code in life.  

Now in my thirties, my answer has changed. Success, to me, is no longer narrowly defined to what I have accomplished or being the “best” but rather about who I have been able to lift along with me. Why? Because at the end of the day, the most “successful” women I know—the ones I look up to—are the women who intentionally act in a way that makes others feel seen, heard, and valued. They’re vulnerable and kind and set an example of empathy, care, and compassion. They are my models of success.  

What’s more, when I asked my colleagues at work, where I have the privilege of being surrounded by phenomenal female leaders, I found I wasn’t alone. I asked some of these remarkable women to share their stories of who encouraged them both at work and in life, and what stood out to me is that it wasn’t about grandiose gestures but rather intentionality in the women who mentored them.  

After analyzing responses, here’s the advice they shared about the successful mentorship they received and what they now seek to be for others: 

Create Safe Spaces

A safe space is one where teammates feel comfortable expressing their opinions and feedback openly and without fear. Trust is built with time and through leaders’ commitment to understand the experiences, values, and stories of their team. Leaders honor wishes to keep information private, and they check in and provide others with the support they need to be successful.

Share Your Story

Inspiring leaders connect deeply with others, share the pain points in their professional journeys, and feel comfortable in their vulnerability. These behaviors give freedom to others to do the same. Timing is key, but storytelling is an important part of how people humanize each other during challenging chapters of life.

Own Your Imperfections

No one has all the answers or the foresight to know whether their decisions will always land well. Memorable leaders are ones who acknowledge when they make mistakes and share how they plan to learn for the future to help benefit the team.

Advocate for Others

We want to be recognized for the good work we do, particularly when we don’t have the power to self-advocate. Goodwill is built when teammates are recognized for the positive impact they’ve made and are given concrete opportunities to progress and grow within their career. 

Know the Boundaries

People have different comfort levels when it comes to what they want to share in the workplace. Leaders who are attuned to their team’s needs and provide autonomy for people to be themselves are the ones who earn buy-in from diverse groups of people. 

For all of us, there were (and are) countless women who, both in our lives and in our career, mentored, supported, and challenged us to be the best version of ourselves. Our role models weren’t the ones with the highest title or who seemed to have it all.

My mentors include my mother, who believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself; my best friends, who have stood by during my life’s griefs and triumphs; and my daughter, who teaches me unapologetic confidence. My mentors also include colleagues like Suki, who neither worked on my team nor on an overlapping project but thought of me and gave me a simple date (the fruit) after a particularly long work trip so I could break fast for Ramadan. These are just a few examples of intentionality that moved me, shaped me, and continue to inspire me to lift other women up. As you can see, the process of lifting up women and being a mentor may be simpler than you think.

May this be the inspiration you need to lift someone up today. Your kindness and actions will have more of an impact than you think.  

Sana Shaikh, PhD, is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Manager of Curriculum Associates. She is also the founder of consulting company TimeED—Taking Initiative, Making Equity in Education.

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