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Making Herstory: The Power of Mentorship

Production Company
San Francisco, USA
INFLUENCER: kaboom's Lauren Schwartz on a wonderful reminder that how we move in the world can really make a difference

As we enter Women’s History Month, I was reminded of the critical role that we – I’ll call us women of experience  - can play in the lives of younger women who cross our paths. Mentorship can come in many forms; sometimes it is a passing moment or unconscious act that lets someone know there is room for their ideas and participation. Other times, it involves really taking someone under one’s wing on a more intensive journey. Both have immense value, and the reward is not unidirectional.

When I was coming up in advertising and production, no one gave me the advice to find a mentor; I wish they had. I started in account management and was a bit of a fish out of water. I am sure there were men and women along the way who helped me, but mostly I was in a position of sink or swim, and fake it until you make it. And, frankly, that was a lonely place to start. If I’d had a proper mentor, would have I discovered sooner that account management was not for me? Or perhaps I would have found another position on the agency side that better suited my passions and skill-set. Instead, I looked for a new path. 

When I moved into production, I did so, again, without anyone really guiding and teaching me. I like to joke that my first job at a production company just showed me what not to do! With just a few years of experience under my belt, I started my own company with a director I had worked with as a freelancer. To be honest, we really did not know how to run a production company; it was the start of one of the dot com bubbles and anything felt possible so we just went for it. I followed my gut, made some smart choices, and ultimately built a successful company...but what if I had a trusted network or a mentor? 

When kaboom was launched, there were very few women-owned production companies. And I had never worked at one. Over the years, I found colleagues and friends who became trusted resources - many of whom are women. We mentor each other, in a sense. It’s something that could have benefited me so much in my younger days. I suspect they feel the same. 

Thankfully, times have changed. 

Today, mentoring is more commonplace. At the 3% Conference they have sessions about finding a mentor and explain how important it is for those of us with greater expertise to help those who are coming up behind us. There are networking organisations that find and encourage mentoring, and companies frequently do the same. As a boutique company, shadowing and mentoring is built into kaboom’s DNA and a natural part of our “wearing many hats.” One of the core pieces of advice I give to young interns and junior employees as they prepare to leave kaboom or advance in their careers: FInd someone who can be your mentor and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It will help you so much as you navigate your career and your life choices. Then, when you’ve hit your stride, find ways to encourage and nurture others. 

I was thinking about International Women’s Day - only a day? - when I received the loveliest email from a former employee who now has a senior role in another company.  Each year, in honour of women's day, they are asked to tell a story of a woman who impacted their lives -- personal or business.  This year, she wrote about me…and I was humbled to read it:

 "I was pretty early in my career, coming on as an office manager, and she really took me under her wing. Always putting me up for exciting new projects, pushing me beyond my comfort zone, and teaching me everything she knew about the video and TV industry. She started a small production company in the late nineties, and through the ups and downs of the industry has never given up and persevered through it all. Not only has she expanded the company to reach new heights working with some of the largest clients and directors in the U.S., but also did it while raising a family. She's a true example of fierce, tenacious and honest leadership, and I'm so grateful I got to learn from her early on in my career.”

When you get to this point in your career, where you have basically done what you set out to do and are kind of over the idea of having to prove yourself to anyone, you realise that life is not so much about how much money you make or how big your business gets but how you handle yourself along the way. Most importantly it is the impact you have on others…your own kids and your family, friends, colleagues and, yes, employees. I am truly humbled to know that someone who worked for me considered me a mentor for them and that I made an impact on her life. That’s not only a career highlight, that’s an important life moment.

It was a wonderful reminder that how we move in the world - what we do and how we do it - can really make a difference.

Lauren Schwartz is founder/EP kaboom

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