Something that's become very clear to me over the course of my career is that there's simply no substitute for real-world experience. You can be an expert strategic planner, memorize management principles and even deliver consistent revenue growth; but if you aspire to be truly successful in business and beyond, you need to engage with the people and environment that surround you.
It's when we connect with others over an idea or a struggle that we learn something about ourselves and grow as professionals. I believe that women are adept at this act of connecting, and it's especially useful for women entrepreneurs on the rise.
My experience as a mentor in the Global Ambassadors Program, a partnership between Vital Voices and Bank of America, reinforced this belief and affirmed something I've found to be true in my own career: mentorship cultivates entrepreneurship. I was with Dow Chemical for more than 30 years, and as I ascended the ladder, I was the first woman to hold most of my senior management positions. At the time, this fact was more than a source of pride -- it was my motivation to support the leadership development of other women and create those opportunities for connection that can propel a woman further.
In my tenure, I led diversity and inclusion efforts and helped found Dow's Women Innovation Network, a resource that helps develop emerging talent through mentorship. My focus on women was about more than fairness, it was about delivering innovation and the highest quality teams. I've come to understand that it's leveraging our differences as women that makes us successful and distinctive. In my view, enabling people to be the best they can be is what makes leadership effective, inspiring and significant. When you can enhance an individual's strengths and sync their talent with your company's mission, you've got the right elements to spark innovation and entrepreneurship.
While I was in India this past October as a Global Ambassador, I couldn't help but be moved by my mentee, Sohini Chakraborty, a social entrepreneur who rehabilitates survivors of human trafficking through dance movement therapy. Sohini proves that entrepreneurship combines vision and action. It's about taking the right risks, trusting your own imagination and connecting with others to broaden your perspective. When an entrepreneur like Sohini is weighing a decision or an approach, a conversation with a mentor can provide focus and insight. In our animated talks, it was easy to see that Sohini's passion and creativity are two of her greatest strengths. I knew that my role was to help her see where her talent lies and show her how to channel that talent into implementing her organization's strategy.
As we continue to emerge from a global financial crisis, we need to tap new thinking, new partners and new industries -- we need to look to the world's women and foster their entrepreneurship. We need to invest in mentorship as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and create an environment where women's success is not only possible, but likely.
This article first appeared in The Huffington Post.