Five successful Rochester-area women praised those who helped them advance to the tops of their careers.
“I’ve been lucky to have numerous mentors,” says Judith Baumhauer M.D., associate chairwoman of academic affairs in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Orthopaedics.
Perhaps more important, they have all paid the benefits of mentoring forward by helping to guide others down their career paths.
“Having a mentor allows you to, without criticism, bounce your ideas and thoughts off an individual who believes in you and wants your success,” Baumhauer explains. “They’re going to listen to what you have to say, and shape it in the direction of the goal that you’re hoping to accomplish.”
To gain the most from that relationship, the mentee needs to have clear objectives for the mentoring process, act upon the guidance that is given and make efficient use of the mentor’s expertise, skills and time. The relationship can develop and proceed informally, or within organizational programs designed to bring the parties together.
Before Lynne Marie Finn became the president, CEO and part owner of Superior Workforce Solutions Inc., she practiced law, first as an assistant district attorney and then in a large Buffalo law firm. In both jobs, senior members of her office were formally assigned to mentor her.
“They were mentoring you on the substantive aspects of the job—how to perform your job correctly,” Finn says.
Finn went on to become the general counsel of Superior Group, a family-owned business that her father, Richard Stenclik, founded. At the firm, which links companies with the people, businesses processes and outsourcing services they need, she obtained more informal assistance from two men. Her father helped her learn some of the skills needed to run a business.
“My father taught me about customer relationships and how to keep employees engaged and happy, and just how to generally run a company,” Finn says.
An outside attorney and expert in contract negotiations and employment law who had done a great deal of work for the Superior Group also gave her a measure of guidance.
“The outside legal counsel shared a huge amount of expertise in the legal aspects and contract aspects of the business,” she says.
Finn rose to head one of the Superior Group’s arms, Superior Workforce Solutions, a woman-owned firm that she has helmed for over 20 years. While in that role, she has turned to the nonprofit Women President’s Organization and other peer groups for the kind of mentoring that more closely fits her needs.
“You have the opportunity to talk with and interact with other women business owners who are in similar positions as you are,” Finn explains.
Monroe Community College president Anne Kress remembers a college professor whose not-so-gentle guidance helped change the course of her life and career. As a graduate student of English literature in the late 1980s, Kress was getting good grades, but did not assert herself in class.
“I was in a very competitive program and I was doing very well, but I was invisible, so I might as well not have been there,” she says.
One day, the crusty chairman of the English department took Kress aside after class. She still remembers his words.
“He said, ‘Your good grades are never going to be enough. If you don’t open your mouth and speak for yourself, no one will ever know that you’re there,’” Kress says.
Though shocked, she got the point.
“If I hoped to have an academic career, I needed to make myself seen and heard,” Kress says. “Simply being a good researcher and a good academician and even a good teaching assistant wasn’t going to be enough.”
The professor became one of many mentors Kress has had down through the years. Even now, she puts his first piece of advice to use.
“Community colleges are not the first thing anyone thinks about when you think about higher education,” Kress says. “We really do need to fight for our seat at the table, and to make sure that people know we exist—and, importantly, that our students exist.”
About four years out of graduate school, Louise Woerner, founder and CEO of HCR Home Care, took a job as a junior analyst in the first Nixon administration’s Office of Economic Opportunity. There, her boss, the late Joseph Halbach, whom Woerner describes as the department’s “number two person,” became a key mentor.
“That was a very man’s world, and political,” Woerner explains. “What he helped me do was understand how to be effective in that kind of environment.”
As an avowed and active feminist who pushed for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, Woerner acquired what she called “a little bit of a harder edge than would be effective.” That led Halbach to express his concerns.
“Joe’s very direct commentary to me I remember very well,” Woerner says. “He said, ‘Get that goddamn feminist chip off your shoulder.’”
The admonition prompted Woerner to change the way she viewed some workplace issues.
“When things happened, sometimes it was because they didn’t want a woman in the role, and sometimes it was probably because I wasn’t good enough,” she says. “In order to be able to grow, you have to be able to sort out one thing from another.”
Woerner stayed in touch with Halbach until his death several years ago. She has also sought the guidance of other mentors, including those in organizations like Zonta International, a global organization of professionals who seek to empower women around the world.
“For women to know other women through organization work is a very good way to gain a mentor, and to observe successful women,” Woerner says.
At the same time, Woerner has mentored others at HCR.
“We try to have a culture of growing our people as we grow our business,” she says.
Elizabeth Zicari, HCR’s president, began making use of that support after joining the firm as a community health nurse about 17 years ago. After Zicari ascended to middle management, she entered a mentoring relationship with Woerner that has spanned many years.
“I was able to spend more time with Louise and learn from her, and get feedback on her leadership within a company, but also leadership within the community and professionally,” Zicari says. “She was able to share how she gathers information to make informed decisions, and how important it was to network within the community.”
Zicari also learned the importance of passing on to others that which she has gained.
“I have women who are growing within the company and need mentoring as well, in order to be successful in … new leadership roles,” she says.
Baumhauer began gaining from such relationships long before she began her career—a physical education teacher in her Rochester school began mentoring her in the fourth grade. That role particularly bore fruit when she was 16 years old and the teacher asked her to work at a summer camp he ran for boys. Through that experience, Baumhauer gained some of the skills she needed to negotiate male-dominated fields.
“That allowed me to sort of see how the guys interacted with one another,” Baumhauer says. “It told me what to say and what not to say and what to do and what not to do.”
A job at a fitness center that Baumhauer held prior to entering medical school also helped shape her career plans. After she encountered an orthopaedic surgeon at work, Baumhauer told him she wanted to enter his field and asked to work at his clinic. The surgeon took her on, beginning a mentoring relationship that continues to this day.
“I don’t let go of these people—I just value their opinions so much,” Baumhauer says.
While such relationships can be tremendously valuable for mentees, they can also prove highly beneficial for mentors.
“I think it helps me grow,” Woerner says of mentoring. “The women that I’ve had the opportunity to mentor have so many talents and abilities that I learn a lot from them.”
Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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