In decades of experience at large firms on Wall Street, Varsha Waishampayan noticed something. Women with potential often feel stuck in the middle, progressing into middle management but lacking the coaching support from senior executives to push them up into the C-suite.
The middle, she said, is getting bigger and bigger, forcing companies to hire senior leadership from the outside and causing middle management women to miss out on growth opportunity.
In the lack of mentorship within companies, Waishampayan saw an opportunity to create a better program on the outside.
“I felt if we could create a framework that held everyone involved accountable—the mentor, the champion, the companies, coaches, everyone who is involved in this process to develop this woman mentee as a leader—then that would help the impact we want but also make sure this could be incorporated as a practice for the senior executive in the company,” she said.
“Just because someone has done well in business,” Waishampayan said, “doesn’t automatically make them a good mentor.” So she created a program that would not only hold everyone accountable, but provide both the mentee and mentor with full support.
Through her Bridgewater-based nonprofit Wings for Growth, Waishampayan extends a hand to other women who can benefit from professional mentorship.
This week, Wings for Growth grows another wing.
Wings for Growth has had two tracks since starting in 2016. The first track, under which mentees sign up directly with the organization, is a 10-month results based program where mentees learn how to move from middle management to the C-suite from the mentors at Wings for Growth. For the second track, companies hire Wings for Growth to execute the mentorship program to high-potential female employees, as well as bring the company’s senior executives on as mentors.
Waishampayan will host the kickoff invite-only event for Wings for Growth’s new third track, called 101 Women on Deck, Thursday in Times Square.
The focus of this program is more on the mentors than the mentees. Wings for Growth has committed to bringing senior executives as mentors in the program, and having them take a pledge to hand-select and mentor a woman they see potential in.
“The spirit of this program is to take one woman they know in their network and say ‘I believe in you, I trust you, and I’m going to help you grow as a leader,’” she said.
The first group of mentors, or “chief change agents,” includes New Jersey Business & Industry Association CEO Michele Siekerka, Garden State Initiative President Regina Egea, and New Jersey Regional President at PNC Bank Linda Bowden.
Each chief change agent will choose one businesswoman to form Wings for Growth’s 2019 cohort, to mentor and guide professionally.
According to Waishampayan, the goal of the program is to inspire each woman to discover her own potential and ultimately become her own agent of change.
“Times Up and Me Too has raised a lot of awareness, and as a result, the opportunities will be knocking on women’s doors,” Waishampayan said. “But if women are not ready for these opportunities, we are going backward.
“This is what gets me up every morning. I need to make sure that every woman who has potential and is given the opportunity, is ready and says ‘yes,’ instead of ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’” she said.
Fifty-five senior executives were invited to the kickoff event for 101 Women on Deck. If each signs up to pick a mentee, Waishampayan will be halfway to her goal of 101 women in the mentorship program.