The B Connection

How mentorship and the St. Kate's alumnae/i network is raising a new generation of women leaders

100 years. In a December 2017 blog post for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Jordyn Arndt '11 writes about research predicting that it will take 100 years to reach gender equality at the top levels of U.S. corporations.

"It's a staggering figure," Jordyn says. “It can lead to inaction, as the issue appears too big to tackle." But Jordyn is not one for inaction. She's on the edge of completing a two-year master's degree program in American foreign policy and international economics at Johns Hopkins University, and is driven by a belief that women need better support and mentorship to advance into leadership roles. 

Jordyn Arndt, The B Connection

Jordyn Arndt '11 has been a master of making the most of every connection. As a mentor, she is giving insight and advice to provide St. Kate's students with the connection between where they are now and where they want to be. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Studies prove this repeatedly. Mentorship has a direct tie to professional advancement, and women have fewer mentorship opportunities than men despite research that suggests gender diversity improves business profitability, sales revenue and even economic growth.

There remains a "leaky pipeline" of women graduating with high professional career goals and those who actually advance to senior leadership positions. A 2011 study by McKinsey found that women are filling 53 percent of entry-level management jobs, with 37 percent of them going on to mid-management and only 26 percent advancing to vice president or high-level executive leadership. 

Jordyn believes better mentorship can help eliminate the drop-off and create a groundswell of support for women's advancement into senior levels of business and government. 

"College graduates are at point A. They have their degree, and they know they want to end up at point C. They have goals and know where they want to go, but they aren't always sure how to get there. What is point B? Our alumnae/i network-we can show them the B, the advice on how to get where they want to end up.";

Her own experience is proof. Jordyn has sought guidance at every transition along her career path. These moments have provided her with various mentors, crucial advice, valuable connections and a steady stream of new opportunities.

Find the Opportunities Around You

When Jordyn was a student at St. Kate's, she sought out faculty and student resources to broaden her aware ness of available scholarships, research positions and programs. She also used faculty office hours to gain additional time with her professors and studied abroad to expand her worldview.

"Leverage that institutional support. Find the people you want to reach out to through the honors program, career development center, alumnae/i services and other places on campus. Many of those organizations can even help you get in touch or establish rapport with people of interest to you, since you have something in common to bridge the gap."

Jordyn also encourages students to turn to faculty and staff for available opportunities and connections. She credits time and advice from economics professors Nasrin Jewell and Deep Shikha for shaping her current career path.

"Professors Shikha and Jewell have been very supportive of me throughout my education and career. They first introduced me to the field of international development and the importance of focusing on women."

As her interests in her economic studies grew, her dedication and vision for a more just world deepened her relationship with them and, in turn, their support for her.

"It's most effective when it happens organically," Jordyn says of the relationship. "I went from office-hour meetings to taking additional classes and writing papers with them. It becomes symbiotic where your interests are strongest, and you find ways you can learn more from them but also support them in their work."

This reciprocation became instrumental in Jordyn's senior year. Professor Shikha offered Jordyn a research assistant position over January term working in rural north India, and then another independent project that spring researching women in textile and clothing manufacturing.

Jordyn's resulting research paper earned her selection as one of 36 students worldwide to present her research at the 2011 Education Without Borders conference in Dubai.

“During this time, I applied for different scholarships and study abroad opportunities, and they always supported me," Jordyn said of her professors. “They wrote numerous recommendation letters and provided advice to help guide me along the way.”

After graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in French, international business and economics, Jordyn's extra application efforts paid off. She received a 2012 Fulbright Scholarship to study women in textile and clothing manufacturing in Morocco. She spent 10 months documenting the experiences of women there, which cemented her desire to work in international policy.

Bravely Seek New Connections

Jordyn's next move was to Singapore, where she worked first as a research analyst and, later, as the government affairs manager at the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham).

Shortly after her arrival, she attended a dialogue on Singapore's future. The discussion was led by Australia native Penny Burtt, who was head of public affairs and external relations for global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Jordyn discovered that Penny had previously served in the Australian Foreign Service and attended The Women's College within the University of Sydney, where she majored in economics and political science. Seeing they had a common foundation, Jordyn took a risk and asked if she'd be willing to meet for coffee.;

"I wanted to get to know her and learn more about her work," Jordyn said. "She was very generous to agree to meet with me. Despite her busy schedule, she was helpful and supportive and we stayed in touch. She would send me different opportunities or provide suggestions of people to reach out to."

Over the next two years, Penny maintained a keen interest in Jordyn's work and pursuits. Eventually, they were matched in a formal mentorship program.

"She proposed we meet once a month. However, I hesitated to be in contact too frequently. I didn't want to impose too much on her time."

But Penny always made time for Jordyn and made it clear she was giving her full attention when they were together.

“When you can sense that level of dedication from someone, it helps the mentee want to try to further that relationship," Jordyn said. "I always got the sense that this was something she felt was important, and she would try her best to make the time for it."

Penny, now a vice president of government affairs in Asia Pacific for Visa, confirmed the commitment. "My goal was to support Jordyn in her work with the Chamber while also helping her to build both her professional skills and personal leadership for the longer term," she said.

Only 54 percent of women have access to senior leaders for mentorship or informal sponsorship in their careers, according to a 2017 study by Swiss consulting and executive recruitment firm Egon Zehnder. This statistic also suggests that women must be more deliberate in seeking out mentors and establishing relationships with influencers.

Jordyn Arndt, The B Connection Smile

By helping other women rise, Jordyn believes all women benefit. In January 2018, Jordyn spent time with four Katies attending a public leadership education network seminar in Washington, D.C., even inviting the students to her civil service swearing-in ceremony the following day. Photo by Scott Suchman.

"I have been very fortunate in my career to be supported by other women in so many ways," says Penny. "Young women in the workplace are half as likely as men to have sponsors, and not all of them have mentors. Building and using relationships with successful, more senior women is an important way that young women can accelerate their careers and help both themselves and the rest of us address the sad reality that women remain systemically underrepresented at the most senior levels of business, government and policy. More women leaders at the most senior levels of our community, would, I believe, lead to greater diversity of thought, leadership models and better decision-making."

Jordyn echoes Penny's beliefs. "For effective policymaking, we need to have diverse voices at the table to consider different points of view and examine how salient issues affect our communities. St. Kate's reinforced that message for me," she said.

"I'd like to see more institutional reform across government, the private sector and civil society to ensure gender and other forms of diversity are factored into hiring and promotion decisions," Jordyn continues. "The most qualified people who are going to add value to their teams-one way being through their unique perspectives-should be embraced by all organizations."

Jordyn and Penny continue to stay in touch and now consider their relationship a personal friendship. Penny supported Jordyn through her master's degree work and the creation of her own intern-mentorship program at AmCham, where she gained management and mentoring experience. She also wrote a letter of recommendation that Jordyn credits, in part, for her successful application for graduate school at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., where Jordyn currently studies.

"I am so hugely proud of all that Jordyn has achieved, and her incredible energy and determination in getting there," Penny says.

Their relationship makes a strong case for taking a risk and asking someone's advice. Thinking on their initial encounter, Jordyn references Keith Ferrazzi's 2005 book Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time.

"This book transformed my perception of networking. It's about meaningfully connecting with people, not schmoozing," she says. "You never know how the relationship will develop. In this case, it developed into much more than I thought it would. And seeing how that happened has influenced how I respond when Katies or other people reach out to me."

According to a study by Development Dimensions International (DD), 73 percent of women surveyed were more likely to mentor other women than to mentor men. This data makes a strong case for current students to reach out to an alumna or fellow women's college graduate. Not only is the student likely to receive a positive response-DDI reported 71 percent of women in its study said they always accept invitations to mentor but they already have something in common on which to start their conversation.

Pay it Forward

The opportunities, advice and time Penny provided her inspired Jordyn to give back in ways of her own.

"She went above and beyond what I would have expected. I'm more involved in mentoring than I would otherwise have been because of Penny's generosity and my desire to pay it forward and help others. I know Penny did it, and she was really busy, but that's how you help contribute to a better world-helping others achieve their goals while you pursue your own."

In 2016, while in her first year of graduate school at SAIS, Jordyn was contacted by Rebecca Roepke '11, a St. Kate's adjunct and fellow alumna. She had a first-year student, Erin Nelsen '20, who was looking for someone in the international relations field she could interview for her introductory course, The Reflective Woman (TRW). Jordyn gladly agreed to the interview. Just a year after this seemingly one-off interaction, the Antonian Honors Program launched a mentorship program of its own, and Jordyn and Erin were officially matched.

Nearly two years later, their mentoring relationship has been conducted almost entirely by phone and email. Jordyn would send resources for Erin to review. Erin would ask for advice on her résumés, internship opportunities and other topics.

"Working with Jordyn has helped me refine my goals and take steps to achieve them, learn more about scholarships, fellowships and graduate schools, and provided me with a strong female role model in the discipline,* Erin says. "Jordyn has accomplished so much in the field of international relations. She is such a strong and inspirational woman, and I am so grateful for her mentorship. I would not be close to where I am today without all the advice and support that she has given me."

When it came time for Erin to decide on internship and study abroad programs, Jordyn was able to share the lessons she learned and the challenges she faced during her time in India, Senegal and Morocco, as well as tips for navigating the complex exam process for the Foreign Service.

"As Penny had done for me, I weighed in but ultimately allowed Erin to make her own decisions. I encouraged her to study abroad in Africa, which was a possibility she was considering," Jordyn says. "Erin is already doing phenomenal work, so I'm only serving in a supporting role. She applied for an internship at the State Department to be at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar in Senegal this summer. I was able to put her in touch with people I knew who worked in the Foreign Service at the embassy there."

Jordyn and Erin finally met in person in January 2018. Erin was traveling to D.C. to attend the Public Leadership Education Network: Women in Public Policy Seminar through St. Kate's. Jordyn attended the reception and spent time speaking with Erin and three other St. Kate's students: Andrea Duarte '19, Stefany Calderon '18 and Biftu Bussa '18. They enjoyed their time together so much, Jordyn invited all four of the students to attend a ceremony the following day where she was formally sworn into the Civil Service by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Students and Jordyn The B Connection

Photo courtesy of Jordyn Arndt.

Biftu recalls the invitation. "Jordyn's own family couldn't attend the swearing-in ceremony, so she said, “My St. Kate's family can be there instead.' It was just so cool that she thought of us. To go into that building and see what happens there in that environment—for her to want us to be there for her special moment—that's what I love about St. Kate's. We have this special connection just by going to the same school."

Stefany and Andrea agree. "As young women, it gives us a real sense of empowerment," Stefany says. "Just being in the space, knowing someone who has gone through that process and whose experience education-wise is similar to yours, it gives you that leverage of, 'I can do this. That could be me as well.' Just to be there with Jordyn, it was a sisterhood to be able to experience that together."

Andrea says, "Jordyn was a huge highlight of my trip. It was incredible to be there at her ceremony with former Secretary Rex Tillerson. She treated us to lunch afterward. We wanted to pay for ourselves as a gesture of thanks for taking us to the ceremony, but she told us that when we're in her position, we can give back to others like she did for us."

It meant a lot to Jordyn to have her fellow Katies there as well. She pledged her support to each of them after learning of their goals and accomplishments, and almost immediately followed up with them when they returned to Minnesota.

"After they attended my swearing in, I sent them each a follow-up email with links to resources I'd suggested they consider," Jordyn says. "If I hear about a scholarship opportunity or an internship program in D.C., I forward it to them, modeling how my mentors have supported me. It seems small, but it's not. As you progress in your career, you get access to more information, opportunities, and people. Making someone aware of a new opportunity can be transformative, and I have always appreciated when others have done that for me.

"Also, I try to recognize their achievements and send them a quick note. When Andrea became a finalist for the Truman Scholarship, I put her in touch with Janessa Schilmoeller '1l, who was a Truman finalist from my year. I knew she could provide her with advice on the interview process, and how to put her best self forward to become a recipient."

Inspire Connection

Jordyn's generosity with her time, advice and attention has inspired all four of the students to find their own ways to mentor.

"Even though I'm graduating, I want to be there for others like they were for me," Biftu says. "St. Kate's is such a special place to me, and I've learned so much. I want to be there for people in my space now. To help those people succeed, advance in their experience as well."

Andrea hopes others will reach out to her. “I have four mentees right now who are younger students, and another who is a Latina from my hometown. Having Jordyn as a mentor, I want to be the Katie that she is, give advice, or if I'm not the right person, connect them to someone like she did for me with her classmate Janessa."

Stefany has been accepted into the Peace Corps to work in Botswana, where she'll work with the local government and support a national program for HIV/AIDS prevention. 

"I have a mentee from St. Kate's who is from Zimbabwe who I'm still very close with," Stefany says. "While I'm in Botswana, her family has invited me to spend Christmas with them. It just shows what a long way mentorship can go.

Erin was thrilled to let Jordyn know she received the internship at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. She has since moved to Senegal to intern with Réseau Siggil Jigéen, a women's rights organization, until her internship at the embassy begins.

"I love seeing photos of what she's doing in Senegal," Jordyn says. "It makes me so happy to see that she's enjoying her time there and making the most of the experience."

"Jordyn has helped me so much, which has, in turn, inspired me to help mentor others," Erin writes from Dakar. "I want to encourage Katies and all women to take some risks, ask for help and push themselves to be their best selves. If you want something, ask for it. If it happens, you're better off. If it doesn't happen, ask someone else. You're not likely to get what you want unless you go after it."

Jordyn has also made career moves worth celebrating. She recently accepted a position as a foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department in Washington, D.C. This step positions her well to achieve her goal of working at the intersection of business, human rights and diplomacy. 

"We still have a long way to go," she says, noting the national conversation surrounding the #MeToo movement and the outcomes of recent elections. "St. Kate's can play an important role in helping women advance by preparing them for leadership roles. We all can.

"I can celebrate with young women I've mentored when they are selected for top scholarships or job opportunities, and I can express gratitude when I share good news with my mentors. These are tangible experiences that have a profound impact on an individual and a societal level. This is how we can effect change. Framing the issue in this way motivates me to continue prioritizing professional development and fostering and maintain ing relationships."

If Jordyn's story inspires more women to connect with one another and share their knowledge and experiences, maybe it won't take 100 years after all.

by Lindsey Frey, from St. Catherine University Magazine Special Edition 2018 issue