ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Margarita Guarin compares business leaders to boxers in the ring.
They need people in their corner, people who support them. They need mentors.
“You don’t do it alone,” said Guarin, regional manager for WESST, a nonprofit business incubator with six locations in New Mexico. “You need a team.”
Though she sees value in all mentoring, Guarin believes woman-to-woman mentoring is especially effective. Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, which can take time to establish. But women often find common ground with each other quickly, she said.
“There is a different energy when we have just women in the group,” Guarin said.
Several New Mexico business leaders, who were honored as part of this year’s Journal-sponsored Women in Business awards, said that female mentorship played a key role in their professional journey.
Theresa Carson, president and CEO of the African American Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, is quick to call herself a banner-waving advocate for mentorship. She had several standout mentors during her 36-year career at Sandia National Laboratories. She said a good mentor’s willingness to share expertise and to provide guidance and constructive feedback is what really helps individuals to grow.
When Carson, who started at Sandia as a clerical trainee, wanted to get into senior leadership, she contacted a mentor she had established years earlier. This woman was a highly respected manager in a sister organization, and she pulled out all the stops for Carson.
“She cooked my dinner that night,” said Carson, who was voted this year’s No. 1 businesswoman in business services. “Then we actually went through interview questions.”
The mentor used her executive experience to coach Carson on how to share her abilities and talent, the things that made her right for the job. Carson went into her interview with a level of confidence that she didn’t have before and subsequently landed the position.
While this mentor became her life-long friend, Carson noted that some mentors are a part of your career for just a season.
Dr. Stephanie Parks, owner of Bosque Foot and Ankle in Albuquerque and this year’s No. 1 businesswoman in health and medicine, finds support for this phase of her life on social media. She’s part of a Facebook group for podiatrists who are also mothers. While most of the discussion focuses on how to run a private practice, conversations about juggling family and work arise as well.
“We are constantly looking for that balance,” said Parks, who is married with four children. She finds the group helpful.
Whether it’s the formal mentoring she received in medical school or supportive friends online, Parks said the biggest benefit she’s gotten from mentoring is simply seeing how others “make it work” in real life.
Fashion designer Dara Sophia Romero, the No. 1 businesswoman in fashion and design this year, also relies on her community for guidance and inspiration.
“I may have had the vision and the ideas,” said Romero, founder of Hopeless + Cause Atelier, a clothing company with a social conscience. “I may be the one sewing all through the night. But … I’m totally dependent on all the beautiful people that I have had cross my path.”
Romero learned to sew from one of those beautiful people, her maternal grandmother, when she was just a child. When Romero began designing clothes in 2014, she consulted her grandmother so much that she said it felt as if she were living at her grandmother’s house.
“I think my aesthetic is probably based on what I’ve learned from her,” Romero said of her special mentor. In addition to teaching technical skills, Romero’s grandmother trained her to think about what she was doing, and why she was doing it, during the designing process.
Guarin says it’s important for women in business to stop and look for mentors. Having someone in their corner will enable them to go a few extra rounds and possibly avoid some of the punches coming their way.
Mentors, Guarin said, will help her “get the prize and win the fight.”