The year was 2012. Gossip Girl finally gave audiences its big reveal, the indescribably infectious “Gangnam Style” flooded the airwaves, and the Fierce Five brought home Olympic gymnastics gold. President Obama was reelected for his second term, fiscal cliff negotiations consumed the nation, and the number of women executives at the largest companies stagnated. It was also the year when The Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a deep dive into the anatomy of women mentoring other women in the workplace. The research aimed to answer the fundamentals. Who is really responsible for making mentoring happen? Are women proactive in seeking out mentors? Do women in more senior roles volunteer to mentor other women, or are they worried about boosting the competition? What will it take to make mentoring more commonplace?
Although more than a decade has passed since the study was published, there’s still much work to be done to elevate the next generation of ambitious female business leaders. There’s no shortage of talented women out there, but there sure is a gaping hole when it comes to the power players calling the shots in the business world. While 2023 marks the first time—after years of being stuck at the 8% mark—that over 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, that sobering statistic is representative of a persistent and problematic gender gap.
In our ongoing commitment to build community and uplift women and other underrepresented groups, the MBAchic team is thrilled to continue offering our very own Mentorship Program for MBAs and applicants. By combining monthly one-on-one mentoring sessions with workshops and programming coordinated and produced by the MBAchic team, participants are thoughtfully matched and able to fully customize their experiences. MBAchic is excited to share the stories from our talented mentorship pool over the next several months to inspire and connect the upcoming group of women rising within our community.
Meet the mentorship duo
Mentor Marina Napoletano and mentee Bre Thomas sat down with MBAchic to share their unique mentorship program experiences and offer insight to anyone interested in getting matched with their perfect partner.
Marina worked in financial services for four years before deciding to pursue an MBA and a pivot into CPG & brand management. Since earning an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management in 2021, Marina has been stewarding exceptional brands at Tyson Foods in Chicago as an Associate Brand Manager. An avid foodie, she is often exploring the Chicago restaurant scene with friends or soaking up downtime with her rescue cat, Pippa.
Bre is a first year MBA Candidate in Kellogg’s 2Y program. Prior to Kellogg, Bre worked at 3M in the Consumer Sales and eCommerce space, but is pivoting to Management Consulting this Summer at BCG in Dallas. On campus, she is involved in Day at Kellogg, KWEST, Kellogg Student Association, and the Black Management Association. In her down time, Bre loves traveling, true crime podcasts, and teaching financial literacy to under-resourced communities.
MBAchic: The MBAchic mentorship program provides a safe space for mentees and mentors to connect and support one another. Can you describe your experience being a part of this program?
Marina: What I really loved about it was that it was very much choose your own adventure for me and Bre, I think there were a ton of resources that the program offered up. It also left a lot of space for Bre and I to define our own mentor mentee relationship and not be pressured into any one kind of structure. It was very customizable.
Bre: I’ve had an excellent experience as a mentee in the program. I was paired with Marina a few weeks before my MBA applications were due. She was always willing to lend her ear as I talked through my GMAT scores and wrote essays. She was a great support in maintaining confidence and energy to continue on with the application process. At the time that we connected, I didn’t know that I would be heading to Kellogg, Marina’s alma mater. So that was a nice surprise! Maybe she was secretly hoping for that outcome from the start. It’s been great to connect on Kellogg-related topics and to ensure I am optimizing my experience while here.
MBAchic: What role does mentorship play in the success of modern business women?
Marina: Something I want to offer any woman that I would mentor going forward is when I was applying, I had this idea of what kind of applicant I was built off of entirely my own assessment of myself. Especially once I started struggling with the GMAT, I kind of built this idea in my head of what the top of my ability was and what the ceiling on my potential was. I had a male mentor at the time who I really value because I kind of expressed this to him, I was like, ‘here are my dream schools, I love Chicago, but I know [Kellogg] that’s a crazy reach. I know it’ll never happen.’ He looked at me and he was like, ‘what’re you talking about? What do you mean it’ll never happen? You have all these great qualities that Kellogg really values and yeah, your scores aren’t where they probably need to be yet, but that’s just one aspect and that is something that you can work on and change.’ He shifted this whole view of myself and the limits of my potential that I had. You probably have more ability and more potential than you are giving yourself credit for.
Bre: I think mentorship plays an essential role in the success of women in business. It is through that relationship building, safe space conversations, and the networking that women are able to elevate their careers and help uplift other women. I do think it is also important to recognize the importance of sponsorship in the success of women. Prior to business school, I was lucky enough to have a mentor turn in a sponsor when I was looking internally for new roles. Without that initial mentor-mentee relationship, it would have been more difficult for me to climb the ladder.
MBAchic: Bre, can you describe an obstacle you faced and how your mentorship relationship helped you to overcome it?
Bre: This might sound odd, all the things considered, but I had the most difficult time choosing which program to attend. It was an absolute blessing to get admitted to all of the schools I applied to, but then I had far too many options. Marina was a great sounding board when I was going through that process! She helped me understand that sometimes you have to make the best decision for you based on your unique priorities, and not what others may think. She really instilled the confidence in me to make the best ‘me decision.’
MBAchic: Marina, if you were to get your MBA all over again, what would you do differently and why?
Marina: What I accidentally did really well and what I actually think should maybe be number one or two when people consider schools is what employers that school has access to and what you want to do after business school. It really, really matters. I just wish I hadn’t started out with such a strict limit on what I thought I was capable of. Very tactical advice that I give people is to try both the GMAT and the GRE because… the way they ask questions is completely different. The way they tease answers out of you and the way they frame things and the way they force you to think is completely different, they’re not just two different names for the same test, they serve different brains.
MBAchic: Bre, there are many styles of feedback. What’s your preferred style and what areas of school / life / career do you seek the most guidance from your mentors / those you trust and respect?
Bre: Let’s zoom-in on those two keywords: trust and respect. If I trust and respect an individual, I am open to feedback on my school, life, and career. I love being my best self and improving in all aspects of my life so I am open to honest feedback and actionable suggestions. I’ve found the areas that I need the most support in vary. When I was working full-time, I sought so much guidance and support in the career and the business school arenas. Now that I am in school, I’ve shifted to needing more support in the life and career areas. My needs evolve given where I am in space and time.
MBAchic: Marina what’s your top advice for prospective mentors?
Marina: Let the mentee kind of direct the relationship because they’re the ones that are currently in flux and trying to benefit. Obviously if there are things you think could be valuable, go ahead and gently suggest that. But I think that Bre definitely shaped the relationship and she determined what she was going to get value out of and what resources were going to be most useful to her… I think that the best gift you can give someone in that position is your complete and utter honesty.
MBAchic: Bre what’s your best advice to interested mentees?
Bre: The best thing you can do is show up! Now, this is also probably the hardest thing to do depending on where you are in life. There are always so many competing conflicts. However, if this is important to you and will help you reach your next goal in life, career, school, etc., you have to show up.
Become a part of MBAchic’s mentorship program
Whether you’re seeking guidance or you’re ready to share your career wisdom and create a space you wish you had earlier on in your professional journey, the opportunity to learn more about our program is currently open. Sign up to receive first notice to join the second Cohort of our flagship program, launching soon.
The MBAchic community is rooted in the belief that we are stronger together. The more accessible we can make education, the more women we can help propel into business school, the C-suite and positions of leadership. Through our dynamic and carefully curated mentorship program, mentees can learn more about the vital parts of a strong MBA application, how to make the most of the time in business school, and how to pave a successful professional path and life. Mentors have the rewarding chance to act as sounding boards and provide fresh perspectives, guidance, and support to women who are navigating the challenges of business school and ambitious careers that follow.
In addition to lifetime membership in a private group and forum with the entire Cohort, participants gain exclusive access to workshops and guest speakers on topics such as:
- applying to business school
- making the most of your time in business school
- funding business school and life beyond
- interviewing for new jobs and the MBA
- salary negotiation
- career development and coaching
- advocating for yourself in your job search
- branding and online persona development
- and more — including networking and recruiting opportunities, teambuilding, events and more as they launch
So, what are you waiting for? Gain the knowledge, skills and network you need to thrive — in business school and beyond. Learn more about joining Cohort #2 of our mentorship program here.