The Role of Mentorship in Supporting Aspiring Women Leaders

Anupama Subramanian  
Director, WTW

Anupama Subramanian is a seasoned Change Management strategist, specialising in talent acquisition and retention. She has extensive experience in establishing Global In-house Centers (GICs), overseeing talent management, risk, legal, and compliance aspects. Her global experience spans various leadership roles, including Head of Human Resources, Organisational Development, and Office of General Counsel functions. Her expertise lies in aligning human capital strategies with business objectives across international landscapes.

The question I hear frequently is – why is it so important to have formal programs where aspiring women leaders need a mentor? The answer is – saying women leaders need a mentor doesn’t imply that others don’t. There is however a definitive need for mentorship for aspiring women leaders for a variety of reasons.


Often women who have the capabilities and confidence still desist from going after the next role. An incredibly high percentage of women have Imposter Syndrome. They would like to feel that they are ‘ready’ and ‘worthy’. A mentor can provide them the nudge to say that they may be underestimating themselves or overestimating the role or simply the fact that no one can be 100% ready BEFORE taking on the new role. This nudge by a mentor is best when it is accompanied by facts, date and a realistic assessment rather than empathy alone.


Next, in an organization there could be times that an aspiring woman leader could be ‘lost’ especially when it comes to navigating networks. Networking is almost a four-letter word for many of us. The role of a mentor in dispelling this myth, encouraging the woman leader to raise her profile, opening doors to have some conversations is invaluable. 


Finally, the impact of the double bind that aspiring women leaders and prominent women leaders face. Research shows that female leaders, more than their male counterparts, are expected to come across as warm, nice, even sweet. While the professional expectation is to be tough, assertive. Having faced this myself, I found it very enriching to be part of a program recently where I could unpack this and how we countered it. It’s quite important to acknowledge that peer mentoring can be of great value as well. Support a friend!


Reflecting on my journey, I recall several points of inflection where self-doubt has held me back. Access to mentors who could neutrally ask me questions that led me to making the right decisions has been pivotal. And yes, many of my mentors have been men.


A lot of seemingly confident aspiring women leaders may be facing these or other challenges and if you can help by being their mentor, please do let them know. You might just be instrumental in nudging someone who can be the next CEO! And to the women leaders out there, I sought out my mentors myself. So, what’s stopping you!