We spent a lovely morning at the Vital Voices Mentoring walk, a mentorship program which pairs up professional women with women leaders in their industries. The walk, organised by Safecity and the Vital Voices Mumbai chapter gave women the opportunity to learn from the career paths of others, and a platform to openly share their feelings.

Vital Voices was set up in 1995 by the then US First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of State Madeline Albright, with the mission of improving women’s economic empowerment, and encouraging women to become leaders.

One of the Vital Voices fellows, Geraldine Laybourne, founder of Oxygen Media, used to invite her mentees on morning walks with her to discuss ideas and challenges. That’s when the idea of the structured mentoring walk started.

“It takes the whole range of actors, men and women to acknowledge that equality is needed and to make sure that women have opportunities.”

“We recognise that women face unique challenges on their path of leadership. We don’t get the platform or environment where we can do that,” said Supreet K Singh, CEO of SafeCity.

“Mentoring is proven to be one of the most important steps in a career path,” she said.

The morning started with a powerful address from Acting US Consul General in India, Jennifer Larsen.

Larsen said that she first worked with Vital Voices when she was in Sudan. Through the organisation, they tried to get more women involved in the peacemaking talks.

“It has been twenty years since Vital Voices was started and we have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality. No one government or organisation can solve this issue. It takes the whole range of actors, men and women to acknowledge that equality is needed and to make sure that women have opportunities.” she said.

She said that mentoring has changed her life. “It’s always different when you are talking with a true peer. When you have someone to whom you can say ‘I can’t believe this happened’. She gave an example of how a government official told her to sit on his lap because there was no place in the room, and how she spoke about the incident with her mentors.

“Mentorship is not about how to get your next pitch. It is about giving a sounding board and coming back to each other after every challenge.”

Mentors and mentees walked and talked, speaking about their dreams and passions, and how to reach their goals.

At the end of their walk, mentor and mentees felt that they had come away with new insights.

Reshma Ghoshal, founder of The Good Edge, who is a mentor in the program, said that she was surprised and impressed by the level of maturity and thoughtfulness that the young women at the event displayed.

“When we were growing up, career opportunities were limited. What we think is possible has exploded. You can make a career out of a passion. My mentee’s dream is to teach at a refugee school. I would never even have thought this was possible,” she said.

Vandita Morarka, legal blogger at SheThePeople.TV, and a mentee in the program, said that she was struck with all the experiences of the women present.

“We need to pay it forward. We would love to see mentees mentor someone. If we can all mentor someone, the world will be beautiful.”

One of the emerging themes of the conversation was the difficulty of coming back to work after a career break.

“Don’t be apologetic about taking a break and talking about it. I think corporates are appreciative that you are coming back,” said one of the mentors in the program.

Amrita, a mentee in the program, spoke about how she took a one-year break after working in a corporate setting for 14 years. She spoke about how she didn’t realise that even a year’s break could be such a fall. She said that her mentor helped her realise that she doesn’t have to chase after only a corporate career. “You can hone your other strengths and talents and make a career of them too. You don’t have to chase what you have been doing for the last 14 years. Your strengths can lie in many other things,” she said.

“Mentorship is not about how to get your next pitch. It is about giving a sounding board and coming back to each other after every challenge,” said Swarnima Bhattacharya, founder of womenshealthline.in.

“We need to pay it forward. We would love to see mentees mentor someone. If we can all mentor someone, the world will be beautiful,” said Supreet.

Also Read: The Vital Voices Mentoring Walk empowers young women to think out of the box