Five Reasons Why Mentorship is More Important Than Ever



Barri Rafferty, EVP, Head of Communications, Wells Fargo

I became Head of Communications at Wells Fargo seven months ago, and I’ve yet to meet a single member of my team or my colleagues in person. This creates new challenges as so many of us work remotely today. Then imagine, young people seeking internships, displaced workers seeking new roles and others entering the workforce are doing so in virtual isolation, with few ways to build workplace relationships or learn by observing other professionals. A mentor, even a virtual one, could be a lifeline to navigating these unusual times in the workplace and mapping out the right career path. 

This year, I’m encouraging my industry colleagues to consider paying it forward by guiding a mentee or becoming a sponsor.  Here’s why:

#1 Break the cycle of COVID isolation

With in-person activities cancelled, I’ve challenged myself to be as accessible as possible to my mentees by responding to texts and setting up calls. I also encourage them to have multiple mentors so they have a broad support network. To extend my reach, I try to use my social channels to post tips and offer career guidance through virtual speaking forums. Modeling the kind of behavior we want to see in future leaders is also important. To me, that means being transparent, doing what’s right, and seeking ways to continuously improve.

#2: Work toward reducing the “she-cession”

With the global economy in its worst downturn, unemployment is taking a much heavier toll on women. In addition, women make up 70% of those employed in PR, yet they still only make up about 30% of agency C-suite executives. The onus is on all of us to help close that gap on the agency and corporate side, and not lose too much talent in our industry.

This means sponsoring and mentoring women to help them be considered for top roles and network with senior leaders to find the right opportunities. While I was at Ketchum, we embraced flexible work policies, helping women and men find ways to better integrate work and life.  As the “she-cession” threatens to take more women out of the workforce, we need to lean in even further to help them navigate the pressures of home schooling, parent care and juggling the additional demands of working from home during a pandemic. I also serve on the national board of Step Up, a nonprofit that joins young women from under-resourced communities with mentors. We have worked quickly this year to provide remote afterschool programs and enhance our reach to help these young women reach their full potential.  

#3: Help someone navigate a less-than inclusive workplace, or find a supportive one

The ethnic makeup of the U.S. public relations industry in 2019 was still 89% white. Diversity and equity have become non-negotiables in corporate America, but that doesn’t mean every company or team understands how to build an inclusive workplace. Employers can’t just hire diverse professionals – we have to foster an inclusive environment where people feel welcome to bring their unique backgrounds and perspectives to the table. 

Mentorship can help people overcome the challenges that their workplace may not be equipped to handle, or identify new career opportunities where they can thrive. 

#4: Cultivate new leaders in Generation Z 

Millennials get a lot of airtime, but we need to talk about integrating Generation Z, the post-Millennial generation that was born from 1995 to 2010. The oldest are in their early twenties and are just entering the workforce now. Almost 50% of them are non-white and came of age during the Great Recession. They place a higher value on face-to-face interactions and crave coaching. A recent CNBC report showed that 40% want daily interaction with their boss and will think they’ve done something wrong if they don’t get that. If we want to attract and retain the next generation at our businesses, mentors have an important role to play in making Generation Z feel accepted and welcomed into the workforce.

#5: Benefit from reverse mentoring

Being a mentor encourages me to be a constant learner. For that reason, I’m a strong advocate of “reverse mentoring”.  I seek feedback from people at all levels in my network, including at Wells Fargo, where approximately 5,500 employees are, or have recently engaged in mentoring. We’re currently revamping our mentoring program, which will include a new mentoring playbook and monthly discussion topics that will help our employees learn from each other. When I seek reverse mentoring, I don’t always seek it from the most senior colleagues, but rather people who I think make great contributions in their respective roles. For example, I’m tapping employees at all levels of our company to help me learn the ins and outs of banking.  If you’re generous to others with your time and learnings, they will reciprocate.  

Every mentee I’ve coached over the last several decades has given me much more than I expected. I encourage everyone to find time to reach beyond your comfort level and give back this year. Your knowledge, connections and kindness is needed more than ever. 

About the Author: Barri Rafferty is the head of Communications, where she oversees Wells Fargo’s  reputation management, enterprise brand strategy, external and internal  communications, brand advertising, sponsorships, heritage and museums. She directs  a team of more than 500 communicators and marketing professionals who serve various stakeholders, including the company’s approximately 266,000 employees. A  strategic and collaborative leader, Barri plays a key role in helping redefine the company’s purpose, voice and brand narrative. 

Barri joined Wells Fargo in July 2020 from Ketchum, where she was the agency’s  president and CEO — the first woman at the time to be the CEO of a top-five public relations agency. At Ketchum, she helped transform and build reputations for some of the world’s largest and most respected companies and brands, including Gillette, P&G, Wendy’s, 3M, Frito-Lay, and HPE. 

A strong advocate of diversity and inclusion, Barri was a founding member of Omniwomen — an initiative to increase the number, seniority, and influence of women in leadership roles. Barri serves on the national board of Step Up, an organization empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused. She also currently serves as a board member for the Women Business Collaborative, which is helping accelerate parity for business women, and is a committee chair for C200, a global organization for women business leaders. 

Barri’s thought leadership has been cited by CNBC, FORTUNE, The Wall Street JournalFast Company, and others. In 2020, Barri was named Outstanding Agency Professional of the Year by PRWeek, and included in PRovoke’s 2020 Influence 100 list of influential in-house communicators from around the world. She also will be recognized as a 2020 Matrix award honoree by the New York Women in Communications. 

She holds a master’s degree in corporate communications from Boston University and an undergraduate degree from Tulane University. She is based in New York City.