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The importance of mentors and mentees

When speaking to successful Baltimore area businesswomen about the importance of mentoring, whether it is having or being a mentor, many feel it is a critical aspect to any woman’s career.

“You receive something from (mentoring) if you are a mentee or a mentor,” said Mary Hastler, Harford County Public Library’s chief executive officer. “I think it makes all the difference in the world.”

Many who have had incredible mentors want to inspire the next generation. “Having (Diane Bell-McKoy) as a mentor has really helped me want to be for other people what she has been for me,” said Tracey L. Durant, Ed.D, a contractor in the Office of Equity and Cultural Proficiency for Baltimore County Public Schools. “It still floors me in many ways when I think about it. How fortunate, how blessed I am to have Diane as a mentor because she is revered in so many spaces.”

Ferrier Stillman, a partner at Tydings & Rosenberg LLP, said she would tell young professionals that if the universe or their employer doesn’t supply a mentor, they should seek one out to provide much needed advice, wisdom and a sounding board for their ideas.


Tracy Durant

Tracy Durant

Tracy Durant, now a contractor in the Office of Equity and Cultural Proficiency for Baltimore County Public Schools, first met Bell-McKoy, her mentor and Associated Black Charities CEO, after approaching her at a luncheon about seven years ago.

Diane’s “been an incredible force in my life,” Durant said.

During her career, Durant was laid off from an organization but Bell-McKoy provided her with guidance. “The day after (the layoff), Diane was the person who I had breakfast with to look at my package and talk to me about my strategy for what to do.”

One of the key pieces of advice Durant has learned from Bell-McKoy is to honor her own brilliance. “When I was going through the layoff, I had never been laid off before any time in my life,” Durant said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should have done differently and why I was not one of the people that they decided to keep. … It came down to dollars and cents. It made more sense for them to cut me because they saved a lot of money, but I spent so much time thinking about what I was lacking rather than my own brilliance. One of the things I have learned from Diane is to honor my own brilliance.”

Durant has several mentees of her own, and she aims to provide guidance to them as Bell-McKoy has for her. “I’ve come to really understand that the many blessing that I have had and the many opportunities that I have had are actually less about me and more about how I can pour into other people,” she said. “I feel like it is, really, as they say, ‘part of the rent I pay for being able to occupy space on the Earth.’ It is what I am supposed to do. It is not an option.”


Stephanie Suzanne Franklin

Stephanie Suzanne Franklin

Stephanie Suzanne Franklin is the founder, president and CEO of The Franklin Law Group. She sees the mentor/mentee role as more of an organic process where both individuals learn from each other. “It’s an exchange of ideas and experiences,” she said.

Franklin, who is involved with child advocacy, met Theresa Martinez through the United States Human Rights Network’s Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education program in 2014. Martinez, who was incarcerated, now advocates for minority women’s rights in the prison system.

As a part of the program, the two went to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, to advocate for the Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination treaty. Martinez was selected to present at an event to CERD committee members about her experience with incarceration and the policy advocacy changes that need to occur as a result of her incarceration. “I helped her with the preparation of her statement, particularly how it relates to her own personal experience and how to connect it with what type of policy changes that should occur,” Franklin said.

The two often meet at human rights conferences and have a common goal of making the world better and more just for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Martinez has helped Franklin better understand the issues and treatment of female minorities in the prison system.

“It’s really been an exchange,” Franklin said. “We’ve been doing a whole lot of human rights building. I was pretty much new to human rights. So was she so we have been able to build together.”


Ferrier R. Stillman

Ferrier R. Stillman

Ferrier R. Stillman, a partner at Tydings & Rosenberg LLP, represents individuals and companies in her family law and health care practice. She was inspired by two partners, JoAnne Zawitoski and retired Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Thomas Waxter, at her former law firm, Semmes, Bowen and Semmes.

Waxter inspired her through his commitment to the community and area nonprofits while Zawitoski taught her about marketing, networking and growing her practice.

She recalls one of the best pieces of advice she ever received from Waxter. “I was asking him a question about an ethical issue and he said, ‘If you think about ethical issues as they occur to you, you won’t have a problem,'” Stillman recalls. “‘The lawyers who have problems are the ones who it doesn’t occur to there may be an ethics problem’.”

These mentors helped to build the foundation of her legal career. “They both were and are invaluable to me,” she said. “They promoted me to people. They gave me opportunities. They set me on the course to have a robust family law and health law practice today.”

Stillman now serves as a mentor to others, including firm associate Marissa Lilja. “I feel like I owe Judge Waxter and JoAnne so much and the best way I can repay them is to pay it forward with another younger person.”


Mary Hastler

Mary Hastler

Mary Hastler,Harford County Public Library’s chief executive officer, is currently mentoring two young professional women. “It’s interesting,” she said. “What I have discovered is I get as much out of the relationship as I hope they do. I have learned so much just from listening to them and I just love listening to whatever they are working on.”

Early in her career, she greatly benefited from having mentors. “Some of them were women that I worked with that I just admired what they did every day, admired the path they took, the decisions they made,” she said. “They just really gave me so much help and guidance and understanding. I found it invaluable. I don’t know everything, and I like to be able to bounce ideas off of folks to find out what their idea is and what their perspective is. … I don’t think I would be where I am now without my mentors.”

Hastler volunteered to be a mentor through several local programs. Through one organization, she was partnered with Patricia “PJ” Overbay, who is now executive director of the Harford Community Action Agency. Through another, she worked with Tarah Wilson, now assistant director of advancement services at Loyola College.

One key piece of advice she gave both ladies is to decide what is most important to you. “What makes you happy?” she asks. “What makes you tick? What motivates you? Figure out what that one thing is and then everything else will fall into place behind it.”

Using herself as an example she said, “I like feeling that whatever I am do is making a difference to someone, somewhere. I know that is very important to me inside so when I go home at night, even if it has been a rough day or things didn’t go exactly my way, I try to figure out one thing I did that helped someone. … Figure out what you are passionate about and then everything else … will help you get in that direction of what you want to be.”


L. Content McLaughlin

L. Content McLaughlin

L. Content McLaughlin is the founder of the Bel-Air-based McLaughlin Law Group. While serving five years in the U.S. Navy, one of her commanding officers, LCDR Sandra Brooks, had a big impact on her life.

“As a female leader in the U.S. Navy, she always complimented me on the fact that I never asked for special treatment because I was a woman,” McLaughlin recalls. “I never played the ‘but I’m a girl’ card. Each time we would meet, she would continue to encourage me to do my job and be the best. ‘Don’t play the ‘I’m a woman card’ – that’s obvious. Prove you’re the best and nothing else matters.’ I have received a great deal of recognition over the years but always remembered it’s not about being a woman or expecting to be treated differently; it’s about being the best.”

McLaughlin believes having mentors is extremely important and the men and women who have mentored her along the way have “definitely shaped who I am, my career path, and even my personal endeavors.”

Today, she serves as a mentor for others. One is a young attorney, Leah Clague, who works part time for her. McLaughlin’s sister had been Clague’s teacher in high school and asked her if she would be willing to meet with Clague as part of a career day program. “Leah and I met and for many years continued to engage on a regular basis through college, law school, internships, and her career as an attorney. … When I took on the role of mentor, I did so with an open mind and found the idea of reverse mentoring is real. Leah has taught me as much as I hope she has learned from me.”

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.