Our 2021 Top Women in Retail report featured 16 Women on the Rise — female retail executives who, while not yet at the top of the corporate ladder, are well on their way to being the next great leaders in the retail industry.

All of these honorees agreed mentorship played a huge role in their career. In fact, some have benefited so much from it that they decided to pay it forward and become mentors themselves.

Here’s a snapshot of how having a mentor helped these women in retail rise in their career:

Theodora “Tedi” Burgos, Director of Retail, LoveShackFancy

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to say that I always knew what I wanted to do. With that being said, I knew I needed to work my way up. In fashion, it’s fast paced and you have to be able to evolve and change. I’m lucky to have had strong mentors throughout all stages of my career, which has allowed me to put in the work and grow. You have to have people who believe in you. Finding people with the right vision to help push you along is everything.

“When I was working in stores at Michael Kors, my biggest advocate was my director of retail at the time. He believed in me and was unwavering in his time to develop me and advocate for me. He taught me the value of people and mentorship, which I still carry with me. My biggest mentor and role model to this day was my CEO at DVF. She pushed me outside of my comfort zone. She taught me the importance of collaboration and really understanding every facet of the business. She ingrained in me the importance of cross-functional relationships and the need to break down silos. She believed in me and in empowering women — I take that with me every day. I truly do not believe I would be where I am today without strong mentors and leaders.”

Hillary Crowley, Vice President of Digital Commerce, QVC

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have several mentors over the years, all of whom helped me grow in different ways. An important realization for me over time was that not all mentor relationships are the same. It’s really valuable to recognize what you need to focus on most, which obviously evolves over your career, and how to lean on different types of mentors to help fill those needs. I also think being a mentor to others has been equally important in my growth; being able to help others in recognizing their potential to grow is incredibly rewarding.”

Alicia DeFinis, Vice President, Partner Growth, Walker Edison

“I like to think of mentorship as a two-way street. Both the mentor and the mentee should be learning and growing in the exchange. I find these are the best and healthiest mentorship scenarios. I’ve had some amazing mentors along the way — one of whom nominated me for Woman on the Rise!”

Christiana DiMattesa, Senior Director of Marketing, D-to-C Channels and Experiences, Under Armour

“I believe there are three very important relationships that you need to have in your career for sustained growth: mentorship, sponsorship and great leadership. Although we don’t often have a choice in who our leader is, we do have the choice of who we lean on for mentorship and sponsorship. Having a mentor that you can go to for advice and be open to receiving direct and honest feedback from is highly important to your personal development. Having a sponsor that is at a higher level than you and has a seat at the table where they can fight for you and get you more exposure is extremely valuable to your growth, both within the organization and within the industry. I’ve been extremely lucky in my career to have had an incredible group of men and women who have stepped into each of these roles for me, and am forever thankful for their ongoing support. I daily make an honest effort to turn around and do the same for those below me.”

Lauren Goldenberg, Senior Marketing Manager, Nordstrom Media Network, Nordstrom

“I’ve had several amazing mentors throughout my career who have helped push me toward my goals. Having people in your corner who root for you to expand outside of what you think is possible — paired with some very honest feedback — is priceless. I wouldn’t have even applied for half the roles I’ve had without a mentor telling me that I’m just as capable as anyone else. I work to pass it along and be there for other people to do the same.”

Keir Harris, Vice President, Head of Sales, Ralph Lauren Corporation

“It takes a village and I would be nowhere without mine! Mentorship comes in many forms, and I have had mentors, sponsors, cheerleaders and relentless coaches throughout my career. Having someone who has an interest in seeing you flourish and become the best version of yourself is critical. They can be a sounding board when you’re facing a difficult decision, a confidant when you encounter a difficult situation, provide advice as you’re trying to navigate your next career move, or push you when you think you’ve reached your limit. Also, not all of my mentors have been more experienced or senior to me — some of my most trusted advisors are my friends. Remember, iron sharpens iron! I also take that approach as I mentor others as well — we all need one another to lift us up, bring up our names in rooms where we’re not present, and push us to be greater. No one can do it alone.”

Bahja Johnson, Head of Customer Belonging, Gap Inc.

“Mentorship has provided me opportunity, but sponsorship has been the true unlock in my career success. The distinction between the two is critical. While a mentor traditionally is focused on imparting knowledge and wisdom on their mentees, a sponsor is someone in a position to advocate for you and your career aspirations. This requires leaders to invest more time in getting to know those they sponsor; however, the career payoff is more impactful in the long run. I’ve been fortunate to have an army of incredible sponsors throughout my career, but the sponsorship I received in bringing Color Proud to life was game changing. My sponsors advocated for me in spaces I didn’t even know were possible, granting me access and opportunity throughout my journey, to now leading Customer Belonging. Given the nature of the work, much of which had not been done before, that sponsorship was critical to many of our initial wins (e.g., Banana Republic’s True Hues campaign).”

Access our 2021 Top Women in Retail report to get insights from more Women on the Rise on mentorship, career development, overcoming professional challenges, and more.