Making Mentoring A Priority

By Nicole Norfleet
Star Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A Minneapolis nonprofit that focuses on empowering women in business is focusing on the power of mentoring. “MPLS MadWomen,” a nod to the “Mad Men” television show about ’60s era New York City ad firms is connecting women with mentors for one-on-one career advice.


MPLS MadWomen is not used to doing things quietly.

For six years, the nonprofit group has made its presence known in the Twin Cities hosting packed events featuring female leaders and entrepreneurs sharing frank testimonials on how they’ve prospered in male-dominated creative industries. It now boasts more than 2,000 members.

But while the organization has focused on the popular panels to elevate women in the industry, MPLS MadWomen board members have recently decided to reprioritize another more personal outreach approach that they say can be just as explosive as their events: mentorships.

The organization’s decision to connect women with mentors for one-on-one career advice is happening at the same time that MPLS MadWomen has debuted a redesigned logo.

Before the MeToo and Time’s Up movements broke into the national spotlight, talking openly about pay equality and female empowerment within the creative advertising industry was considered taboo, said MPLS MadWomen President Erin Simle, who works as an executive producer at the Fallon ad agency.

In 2013, Simle helped her then co-worker Alison Beattie and a group of other women as they formed MPLS MadWomen, a nod to the “Mad Men” television show about ’60s era New York City ad firms.

“Very quickly it caught fire in a way where we could land these amazing, amazing women to speak at these events and everyone would be super, super fired up which was amazing. … People would leave the events going, ‘This is like church! I love this, but now what and how do I apply this to my situation?” Simle said. “We know that women succeed when they have mentorship, when they have people around them who are advocates for them.”

Though the organization has been doing a form of mentoring since 2016, it’s doubled down on its efforts with changes for its current mentoring class that started this fall.

“We can continue moving forward with those big inspirational events and continue to see sort of numbers decline as women have more options … or we could pivot and really find a different way to give back to the community,” said Amanda Zweerink, vice president of MPLS MadWomen and a partner at marketing firm Zeus Jones.

This year, the organization has matched about 150 pairs of mentors and mentees for six-month commitments. Mentors have at least five years of industry experience and typically are at least two to three years older than their mentees. Over 200 individuals applied to be mentors.

MPLS MadWomen tries to match people within their work disciplines when possible. The mentors and mentees are supposed to meet at least once a month. The organization also offers regular happy hours to help with the meetups.

For the first time, mentees also have to pay a fee, which ranges from $25 to $75 based on years of experience, to make sure they are invested in the mentorship. For those who can’t pay, mentors have helped sponsor mentees.

Lauren Scott, 28, who is still relatively new to the Twin Cities after growing up in Detroit and attending the University of Minnesota Rochester, said one of the reasons she wanted a mentor was to have someone to bounce career questions off, including about salary.

“It’s always been hard for everybody, men and women, to ask about a raise,” Scott said. “I wanted to find somebody outside of work for guidance with not only my workplace but the future trajectory of my career.”

She met mentor Lauren Akin for the second time at a MPLS MadWomen happy hour in early December. Scott, who works as a media coordinator for Qumu Enterprise Video, had heard about the mentorship through another mentee.

Akin, 38, an associate media director at Fitzco-CompassPoint, described their first meeting as feeling like “kind of a blind date.”

“When I was younger, I wish I was more involved and had a mentor,” Akin said. “Especially in this industry, there’s a lot of need to have as much support as possible.”

In addition to the mentorships, MPLS MadWomen has also worked to offer workshops on topics such as resumes, pay negotiations and presentation skills.

Another large step for MPLS MadWomen has been the new logo that the group debuted last month that was designed pro bono by agency Little & Co.

The firm also designed some other iconography that MPLS MadWomen has used on its website and social media channels.

Traci Elder, Little & Co.’s vice president of business development and strategy, had volunteered for MPLS MadWomen and helped approach the group’s leadership about Little & Co. leading the redesign.

“It’s so dynamic, it’s so bold, you feel fired up,” Elder said, about MPLS MadWomen as an organization. “Representing as a person from a brand design agency, I just felt like the existing identity system which was created way back in the day wasn’t maybe as powerful as the conversations that I felt were happening.”

The logo was taken from a more simple overlaying of the “MW” abbreviation for the group to a more enhanced typography with hidden quotation marks that are supposed to represent the open discussions that MPLS MadWomen encourages.

“We wanted in the most simple way to represent communication,” said Joe Cecere, president and chief creative officer of Little & Co. “…We wanted to make it very iconic, something that people can be proud to wear on a T-shirt or see on a sign and have it be bold enough that it stood out for who they were.”
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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