Most of us want to help other women. We want to make the workplace (or even just a singular workday) easier for them. We want to be the one who helps them reach their highest potential, and we want to be there for them professionally, especially if we’ve been in environments where no one was there for us. But it can be hard to know where to start. Navigating professional relationships — especially relationships based on owning up to your weaknesses and improving yourself — can be awkward and difficult.
Ecolab — the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services to the hospitality, industrial, food, energy and healthcare markets — has made the process a lot easier by cultivating a company culture based on meaningful relationships, peer mentorship and women building each other up. And the relationships there are the perfect example for how to make mentorship really work.
We talked to women at Ecolab with different backgrounds and levels of expertise to understand how they’ve cultivated lasting relationships with their colleagues. And we found that the most successful mentor/mentee relationships had a lot in common. Here’s how three women at Ecolab are making their mentorship opportunities meaningful.
What do you do in your current role?
Delia Contreras, VP Supply Chain: I have two roles. One role is the proper execution of capital engineering projects that support Ecolab’s Energy Services and Nalco Water businesses globally. I also manage capital planning for the company.
Ashley Pridon, VP Corporate Accounts: I lead the U.S. Corporate Account Team for one of Ecolab’s longest and most cherished customer relationships. I’m also a global lead for E3 (our Women’s Business Resource Group). Working with women and men across the globe who care deeply about the advancement of women leaders has been incredibly fulfilling. Like all leaders before me, I aspire to leave a lasting impact by creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace than the one I started in.
Ariana Filiatrault, Associate Talent Acquisition Operations Specialist: The main scope of my role is to provide day-to-day operations administration and user support for our global Talent Acquisition teams. Additionally, I have the opportunity to lead a team focused on continually improve the experience of our candidates, hiring managers and Talent Acquisition teams.
When did you join Ecolab and why?
Delia: I joined Ecolab a little more than 6 years ago. I saw a lot of potential to make a positive impact because it is a growing company. I also saw development opportunities for myself.
Ashley: I joined Ecolab two and half years ago because I identify with our mission to protect our planet’s vital resources. I’ve always been someone who needed to connect their work to a higher purpose and at Ecolab I’ve been able to find that and more.
Ariana: I joined Ecolab as a contractor in May 2017, the day after I graduated college. I was hired as a full-time employee in February 2018. My desire to join Ecolab came from my mother, who has worked for the company for more than 10 years. It was inspiring to see her wake up every morning and genuinely enjoy going to work. As I began my official job search at the end of my college career, she consistently reinforced the importance of working for a company that “walks the talk.” Ecolab does.
How and why did you first begin working with a mentor/mentee?
Delia: I have been mentoring for about 15 years. My first mentee at Ecolab was through the Supply Chain mentoring program. I did it because I strongly believe in giving back, and because I believe I learn things from every mentoring relationship, either to apply to my job or to my personal life.
Ariana: About a year into my career with Ecolab, I had the opportunity to listen to several senior leaders talk about an event called “Check Your Blind Spots” that focused on uncovering unconscious bias. I was incredibly inspired by each leader that spoke, but one in particular left me with a passionate desire to learn more.
Being very new in my career, I was nervous to reach out and ask for time from her very busy schedule. I sent her an email and she responded with extremely kind words and a calendar invitation to grab coffee. Almost immediately, I was taken under her wing as she provided me with invaluable insights, mentorship and opportunities to tap into many things that I am passionate about.
I was instantly reminded of the reasons I wanted to be a part of the Ecolab family in the first place. Her response was a perfect example of the warm, welcoming culture that exists at Ecolab.
What have you accomplished by working with a mentor/mentee?
Ashley: By allowing myself to be vulnerable in a professional setting, I have found that it is possible to form deep, meaningful connections with colleagues that last a lifetime. While it may sound cliché, I truly believe you get what you give in mentorship relationships, and I’ve learned as much from “women in the field” mentees I’ve had as I have from mentors at the management level.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for a mentor/hoping to take on, or taking on a mentee?
Delia: I always pay attention to the “gut feel” and the chemistry. In a mentoring relationship, it is extremely important that both sides feel connected. Be willing to learn and to share, and to ensure the relationship is as personal as possible. When I mentor people, I also normally connect with their direct manager to understand the perception he or she has of the mentee. It helps me tailor my approach.
Ashley: A mentorship must be natural and can never be forced. While strategic mentorship is certainly a good idea, my biggest advice is that you cannot and should not force a mentorship that doesn’t “fit.” Finding someone you connect with and feel comfortable with in a professional setting can be hard at times, but I believe this connection is imperative to foster a trusting, healthy and mutually productive environment. Don’t fake it. You will know when you’ve found a good fit.
Ariana: My advice comes from our leader of HR, Laurie Marsh. During a leadership summit, Laurie kicked off the day by telling us to “think of the people who got you where you are today and remember to return the favor by lifting as you climb.” This goes for both the mentor and the mentee. Allow yourself to be lifted by those around you, but don’t forget to return the favor as you climb. I am humbled by the opportunities I have been given by fantastic female leaders at Ecolab who have already climbed their way to the top.
The main takeaways?
A truly successful mentorship requires an organic connection. But more than that, it requires vulnerability, self-awareness and a realization that you get what you give. If you keep your mind and your conversations open, you’ll benefit more than if you consider the relationship a transactional checkbox. With the right state of mind, fulfillment can come from being mentored and mentoring. But maybe the most important thing to consider when building a strong mentor/mentee relationship? Building it within a company culture that encourages human relationships and personal development beyond the bottom line.
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