As the world heads back to school, to work and to long-awaited events, it is energizing to look to the future. How the pandemic has affected students is still unfolding, and it will take time to rebalance years of remote learning. But one thing is clear—the impact of early mentorship may well have saved the day.

For many middle school, high school and college students, connecting with mentors—adults willing to invest energy in fostering talent, bolstering confidence or simply sharing interesting details about their jobs—filled a void left by canceled activities and kept kids focused on what they love. 

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In anticipation of next week’s Women & Worth Summit panel focused on the importance of investing in the next generation, I asked a few members of Être, a mentorship platform that brings girls into companies to meet female leaders, to reflect on mentorship and why it matters right now more than ever. Below is an edited summary of their responses.

What Does “Mentorship” Mean to You? 

“To me, mentorship means the collective gambling on a dream. In this partnership, mentors (or anyone who inspires you), invest their time and knowledge into elevating their mentees’ leadership potential. Mentorship means offering steadfast guidance while challenging someone to grow.”             

Elizabeth Shvarts, age 16

“To me, mentorship is a relationship in which someone with more experience, knowledge and wisdom works with or helps a (usually) more junior person achieve their goals by providing advice, guidance and opportunities.”

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Daisy Hampton, age 12

“Mentorship to me means sharing the secrets to your success and paving the way for others. No one needs to navigate through their life alone, and mentors are people who help you through important life decisions that they may have made for themselves in the past. Mentors want to help others who are in a similar situation to their younger selves and do so with encouragement and sage advice.”

Paige McCullough, age 17 

“Mentorship means that you can learn from someone how to complete new tasks without making so many mistakes…not that you will be perfect, but [mentors] help you do your best, be the best version yourself and give you   this beautiful, breathing example of how to do it.”

Winter Noel Joy, age 12

“To me, mentorship means giving guidance to those who wish to receive guidance. The mentor must be educated in their field of study and the individual must show they are open to learning.”

Amber Carr, age 17

Why Do Mentors Matter Earlier in Life Than the Workplace? Do You Have Teachers, Coaches, Community Leaders or Other People Who Are Already Mentoring You?

“I am a model, photographer, artist and an actress, so I take classes all the time! Teachers, coaches and mentors help me develop the skills I need because I picked a career that starts now. I don’t have to say when I grow up I want to be XYZ because in my field you can start at any age and live your dream.”

Winter Noel Joy

“My growth would not be possible without the long-standing support of my elementary school principal, Mrs. Wright. A musically inclined amalgamation of Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross, Mrs. Wright was the first person in my life who championed dreaming as courage.”

Elizabeth Shvarts

“Mentors can give you guidance and direction specific to your interests and goals. I have a voice teacher, Dr. G, who is a university opera professor. He has guided me in my vocal studies and helped provide me opportunities to study classical voice since I was 11.  I also work with a female music producer who is teaching me how to record and produce my original work, so I have more control over my creative product as well as my professional career.”

Elle Cohen, age 12

Mentors are important at every stage of life! My nonprofit organization, Including You, pairs kids with disabilities and/or kids who face economic disparities with peer mentors for friendship, learning and fun. These mentors help students pursue their goals, whether it is achieving better grades or developing lasting friendships. My most important mentors are my parents, who are amazing role models. But I am super grateful to have the founder of Être as a mentor—she guided me through my Ted-Ed talk and provided a forum to learn from women who have really cool jobs, such as authors and women in finance.”

Daisy Hampton

“Mentors definitely matter earlier than the workplace because we always need guidance no matter how young we are. Character is built in our youth and mentors help shape it and help us along to become our best selves in our formative years. I have many teachers who have acted as mentors for me throughout my school career, and their advice has helped me immensely. I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help.”

Paige McCullough

With their eyes fixed on future projects, including my upcoming book called The Epic Mentor Guide that matches girls’ questions about the work world with answers from 180 women already there, these girls and so many others are relying on early mentorship to satisfy their curiosity about the world and springboard interests in new fields.

“For The Epic Mentor Guide, I asked how a girl looking for an internship or job would approach an executive. Learning basic steps in building a network is important to learn at a young age so that after college, they will not be lost.”

Amber Carr

“I submitted questions to NASA professionals about their academic and career paths because I’d like to pursue a career in science and space exploration and am interested in any guidance and advice those who are more experienced and knowledgeable can offer!”

Elle Cohen

Put simply, mentorship matters. And women and girls alike are looking forward to next week’s Women & Worth Summit in large part because mentors and new connections will be there. “I have been to two Women & Worth Summits,” concludes Paige McCullough, “and the mentors have impacted me because of how caring they are. Attending their talks has really shown me how much they want to help us succeed in the same way that they have and that is really special.”

To hear more from Illana Raia, join us at the Women & Worth Summit. Register for our free summit here