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Connie Morella

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A Five Star Global Investment in Women: The Power of Mentor Relationships

Posted: 07/26/2012 5:05 pm

Early this year I was honored to be one of five Vital Voices Global Ambassadors to Haiti, where we launched a new program in partnership with Bank of America. Designed to assist Haiti's post-earthquake recovery by empowering women to take on leadership roles in their community, the Global Ambassadors Program is an exciting initiative geared toward developing leadership potential and equipping women with the skills and resources they need to make an impact in their communities.

My experience as a Global Ambassador ties in well with my work at The 2012 Project, an initiative aimed at instilling confidence in women and providing them with the necessary tools to run for public office. The project inspires women both to run for office and to organize political action in their respective states, with the ultimate goal of empowering American women to stand up for what they believe in.

Women representatives make up only 17 percent of Congress, a number that vastly underrepresents our current societal landscape. I believe that mentoring can be a major tool in filling these representation and leadership gaps. I am focused on finding answers, particularly to why more women don't run for office, pursue high governmental appointments, or strive for positions as partners and members on influential Boards. Research shows that one reason for the gender gap in many areas of leadership is that women lack confidence in their ability to compete with men. Many women think they need a PhD degree to run for office. In many countries, lack of support and encouragement from political parties and civil society also contribute to these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I hope to counter these assumptions, and I am optimistic that my new role as President of the Former Members of Congress will pave the way for a bright future for women's leadership. I'm only the second women to serve as President of the FMOCs, but I'm confident that there will be more after my tenure.

My work at American University is another way I am tackling the crisis of women's leadership in the political arena. As an Ambassador in Residence at AU's Women & Politics Institute -- a position dedicated to minimizing the gender gap in political representation -- I will teach a seminar on Women in Congress this fall, where I will delve into this issue in great detail with the next generation of leaders who will rise through the ranks of the university.

A prime example of the formative power of mentoring, the Global Ambassadors Program stresses that robust, supportive social networks are one of the best ways to spur self-growth and advancement. The emphasis on mentoring in order to enhance and develop effective leadership is an essential component of this goal. Each Ambassador is connected to an emerging woman leader with whom to share experiences, expertise, and helpful connections. My mentee in Haiti was a vibrant, dynamic young woman who had been an active YWCA leader and savvy businesswoman: Rachel Coupaud.

Rachel was later appointed Haiti's representative in Taiwan. I was pleased to be able to introduce her to influential friends in Taiwan to assist and ease her transition. In her most recent communication she wrote: "I sincerely hope to achieve many, many wonderful things for my country and its people who deserve it." We will stay in contact.

Mentoring is a powerful force in building the confidence women need to lead effectively. Women are the most receptive coalition builders in positions of legislative power, more often tied to specific issues than they are to the general platform of a particular political party. This bipartisan tendency proves important in today's world of polarizing political debate, especially in a Presidential Election year. My experience with The Women & Politics Institute, The 2012 Project and the Global Ambassadors Program exemplifies the outstanding influence that mentoring can have on promoting the skills and resources necessary for developing women into progressive, effective leaders, regardless of where they call home or what their goals are for the future.

 
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