When I think of the mentors I’ve had over my career, I don’t focus on the people who managed me, though I surely am indebted to many of them. Instead, I tend to reminisce about the fantastic group of peers who supported me along the way to my current role as our company’s Chief People Officer.
Early in my career, I bonded with a group primarily of women who also worked in human resources. We were in similar life stages, having children around the same time. We were ambitious and high-performing; we worked hard but also had fun, often playing goofy music and dancing around the office after hours and bonding together in meaningful ways.
When I confided to my closest colleagues that I aspired to run the human resources department at a major company one day, they supported and helped me map out the steps I would need to take to get there. Most importantly, they gave me truly honest feedback that stuck with me to this day. Now that I’ve achieved that dream at Nestlé, I know I couldn’t have done it without them.
They were there every step of the way providing support, guidance, cheerleading, and reassurance. Having a network of smart, energetic women in my corner made all the difference as I navigated an environment that was rapidly changing for women in leadership.
Today, when I meet with young women seeking career advice, I urge them to form their own peer networks. I want them to learn from what I’ve lived: By surrounding yourselves with supportive people who understand your challenges as well as your aspirations, you’ll have a much greater chance of thriving and succeeding. Connect with the colleagues who want to see each other happy and fulfilled and will work tirelessly to make that happen.
Research from a variety of fields all around the world backs up my personal experience, showing that having the support of a peer, or peers, can help women succeed. A microfinance experiment, for instance, found that female entrepreneurs in India who attended a business course with a friend were more likely to secure lending and invest in their business than those who attended the event alone.
In 2017, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that female engineering students with a female peer mentor were more confident in their abilities, had a greater sense of belonging in engineering, and were less anxious. Impressively, every female student with a female mentor was still an engineering major at the end of their first year of college. Students without mentors had an 11% dropout rate.
The power of peer networks and peer mentoring underpins Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In circles, which bring together groups of women at similar career levels for conversation once a month. Members of the group discuss their ambitions and push each other to take on new roles and challenges. Women in Lean In circles are more likely to ask for — and receive — raises and promotions than women who are not.
While these sorts of networks often develop organically, companies like ours can also take steps to foster and support strong peer relationships. At Nestlé, we have affinity groups in areas like women’s leadership, veterans and military spouses, and others, which bring employees together to discuss their careers, access internal and external leaders for insights, and process and discuss those insights together. We pair these types of programs with balance-oriented benefits and a wellness-focused environment so all employees can bring their best self to work every day.
At Nestlé, we understand that our success depends on our people. And our employees can only serve our customers and create incredible recipes if they’re in an environment that encourages personal growth and inspires action. When Nestlé employees are able to connect with their peers and share in our common journey as a company, they’ll thrive as individuals and we’ll succeed as a company.