Apply to Be Mentored: You’ll Thank Yourself Later

Why Joining the Network of Executive Women College Mentoring Program was the Best Decision to Launch My Career

Looking back 6 years ago as a senior at Simmons College, my hindsight is 20/20. With this clear retrospect vision, I am certain that the Network of Executive Women –undoubtedly played a crucial role as I started to plan my career, build my skills, gain experience, and grow my network.

It began in 2009 when my career services director stopped by my senior-year corporate social responsibility (CSR) class with an announcement about a “NEW” college-mentoring program opportunity focused on the retail, consumer goods and services industry. Given I was going to be graduating with my bachelor’s degree soon and not completely sure about my future, I was in need of some guidance—so I signed up. Little did I know that joining this powerful organization has been one of the best professional decisions I have ever made.

The origins of NEW

In 2001, a few leading industry executives recognized there were not enough female leaders in the retail and consumer goods industry—and that everyone would benefit if there were. While women make up 50% of America’s overall workforce, they are still underrepresented in leadership positions –only one in five corporate officers and one in 20 CEOs are women.

Because the vast majority of consumer purchases are made by women, female leadership is especially important to the retail and consumer goods industry. According to an analysis published by the Harvard Business Review, women control $4.3 trillion—73 percent—of U.S. consumer spending.

NEW was founded to address the lack of women leaders in retail and consumer goods, and soon become the industry’s largest learning and leadership community, representing more than 9,000 members, 750 companies, 100 corporate partners, and 20 regions in the United States and Canada.

NEW’s learning, events, best practices, research, and leadership development programs advance women, grow business, and help create a better workplace for all.  This mission is expressed by NEW’s manifesto: “It’s time for a new workplace. One that’s less rigid and more flexible. Less authoritative and more collaborative. Less conformist and more diverse. More authentic and less impersonal.”  NEW’s sweeping vision: “A workplace with no limits.” .

NEW college mentoring

The Network’s college mentoring program pairs ambitious student leaders from local colleges with industry professionals to introduce future leaders to the consumer goods industry and share members’ expertise. Each fall (occurring now), the college mentoring committee chairs collect applications from potential mentees and mentors and create matches based on applicants’ interests and commonalities. Typically, NEW selects approximately 15 students from several colleges in the Greater Boston area – from Bentley, Simmons, Brandeis & Babson.

The program begins in the fall with a kickoff meeting where students and mentors meet each other and share their experiences. The specifics of each pair’s relationship are left to the discretion of the mentor and mentee based on their mutual goals, schedules, locations and communication preferences. Most participants keep in contact with monthly check-in calls, weekly e-mails and occasional face-to-face meetings. Students are invited to all NEW’s networking events and we also bring the program to campus during the spring by hosting panel discussions. After the spring semester is closed, the formal program ends, but mentees and mentors often stay in touch and continue their relationship informally.

NEW is best known for its fall and spring networking events, which typically include an interactive workshop and a keynote speaker. These events, which take place around the country, attract 300 business professionals or more. Over the years, executives from such companies as Walgreen’s, CVS, Wal-Mart, Hannaford, and Ahold USA, as well as top-notch professional leadership coaches, have shared their inspirational stories and business lessons with NEW members.

My experience with NEW

When I was inducted into the first NEW mentoring group in 2009, I had the pleasure of being mentored by Bobbie O’Hare, a NEW board member (emeritus) who was instrumental in the formation of the Network’s regional strategy. She started the New England chapter of NEW as well as several other regional chapters nationwide. As vice president of sales development for food brokerage JOH, Bobbie has a passion for connecting people and building networks.

During our formal relationship, Bobbie used her networking skills to introduce me to other woman professionals. She also provided guidance for my career path and served as a listening ear during challenging times. I have stayed in touch with Bobbie over the years from college student to entry-level employee to my current role as manager. I remember calling Bobbie after I was unexpectedly laid-off from my first full-time job. She helped me assess the situation, prepare for next steps and helped me stay positive. The fact that I know I can call Bobbie today, or any of my other “informal” mentors through NEW, gives me confidence that I can navigate any career challenge that comes my way.

As one of the first businesswomen in my extended family, I did not have a network to connect with as I started my career path. Thanks to the women of NEW, I was able to receive introductions and gain two invaluable interviews with the Greater Boston Food Bank and CVS Health for internships – both of which I landed!

These stepping-stones opened up opportunities to all of my subsequent internships and career positions. NEW’s power did not stop there. After college during my time as sales manager at a small mission-driven CPG company, my NEW connections helped introduce my company to a major client–and led to one of my company’s largest sales  I was especially grateful for NEW while I was interviewing for my current role with United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), because the woman who interviewed me was someone that I had met at a previous NEW event.

After my rewarding experience as a NEW mentee and young professional, I decided it was time to pay it forward. In 2012, I was sales and marketing manager with some experience under my belt. I signed-up to become a mentor to a student so I could share what I had learned in the industry as a young professional. Our relationship involved providing an introduction to the world of CPG, helping her build her network, and assisting the mentee with her interviewing voice. It’s important to note that the mentorship program can also be as rewarding for the mentors as it is for the mentees. College students share their experience from internships and courses. Mentees keep the mentors updated with the latest news in the job seeker market. In addition, the connections that the entire group makes during the mentorship program can be the start of lifelong friendship that are mutually beneficial for mentees and mentors alike. I still stay in touch with a several of the mentees and mentors that were involved in the 2009 program!

Going one step further, I joined one of my favorite people, Amy Roy from King Arthur Flour, in co-chairing the NEW New England mentoring program in 2014. As co-chairs, we coordinate with colleges, students and businesswomen to help make a rewarding mentoring experience for young aspiring businesswomen. Last year, we had 12 stellar students from Simmons, Bentley and Holy Cross who are connected with professionals in the industry. We hosted a kick-off meeting, panels and small events throughout the year, equipping students with the tools they need to start their career off right.

It is hard to talk about the power of NEW without sounding cliché: life-changing, inspirational, powerful. If you are interested in working in the retail or consumer packaged goods industry, NEW is a network that gives to you as much as you give to it. Please consider joining us at our next networking event to learn more.  I guarantee that you will learn something, meet someone, or be inspired in a “NEW” way.

Will you do your future-self a favor and apply to join us this year?!


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By Laurie Burgess
Laurie Burgess Account Manager