I attended a great session earlier this month at NRF 2021: Retail’s Big Show – Chapter One that was all about mentorship, and thought I would share some insights I gleaned from it.

The session, “More than mentorship: New ways to foster retail’s future female leaders,” focused on the state of mentorship today, including what’s working and what’s not when it comes to preparing women to lead and rise up. Speakers included Karen Beebe, chief information officer, Vineyard Vines; Shannon Gordon, CEO, theBoardlist; and Gail Tifford, chief brand officer, WW International. The session was moderated by Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient.

Best Advice From a Mentor

During the session, Zalis asked participants the best advice they ever received from their mentors, and the answers were varied.

“The best advice I ever received from one of my mentors was to be thoughtful about whom I work with,” said Gordon. “It may sound like canned advice, but it really helped me lean on my internal wisdom and my own perception of people. It helped me realize that the more I focus on people, the better choices I make in my career. It has been very helpful advice.”

Vineyard Vines’ Beebe said the most helpful advice she ever received from a mentor came early on in her career. “One of my mentors stressed the importance of collaboration and relationship building very early on in my career, and to this day it’s some of the most important advice I’ve ever received,” she said. “It reminds me to always continue to build my network, and that my network will help me break through barriers.”

For WW International’s Tifford, the best advice she ever received actually came from Zalis, who is one of her mentors. She turned to Zalis when she was debating whether to leave Unilever — where she had worked for 21 years — to go to WW International. “At the time you said to me, ‘when passion meets purpose, you become unstoppable,’ and I thank you for that,” Tifford said. “I love what I’m doing now and am the happiest I’ve ever been.”

How to Choose a Mentee

Zalis also asked the panelists their thoughts on how to choose a mentee: “I’m sure you’re asked all the time to be mentors,” Zalis said. “How do you choose who to mentor?”

For Gordon, she tends to be interested in people who don’t come to her with a box-checking type of approach, “where they’re expecting me to do a favor for them,” she said. “I get inspired when talking to someone more broadly and big about their career. I love it when the conversations become brainstorms and I become a thought partner to them around how they build something big for themselves. That tends to be very inspiring to me.”

Tifford said she really responds to a value exchange. “I’m not so interested in people who just want to get to know me and learn about my career,” she said. “I love a give and take where we both share with one another. A mentee should never underestimate that they don’t have anything to give back.”

Beebe agreed. “The best mentor-mentee relationships are when we’re helping each other,” she said.