Quad Cities, IL/IA – As a woman in college with graduation on the horizon, I often find myself uncertain of the future. I spend more time than I’d care to admit wondering how I will break into the unknown territory of a new career or explore my employment options with my brand new, shiny diploma.
Recently, I was introduced to Megan Hasselroth, a fellow Western graduate. Megan graduated with a degree in sociology with minors in women’s studies and public administration in 2013. She eventually went on to get her masters in nonprofit management. She is now the director, and only employee, of an inspiring nonprofit for women to connect with other women. Lead(her) not only allows for professional networking, but helps with personal growth in goals, utilizing guest speakers, close relationships, and even a yearly Girl on Fire award awarded to the Best Mentor and Best Mentee.
The non-profit organization was founded by Melissa Pepper in 2016 when she was a new transplant in the city. She had no friends and no connections but wanted to volunteer to give back to her new-found community. From her desire, Lead(her) was born.
Lead(her) is a non-profit designed to bring women together, to “match new professionals with seasoned professionals,” according to director Megan Hasselroth. The agency pairs women in a mentor/mentee relationship, matching things like personal and professional goals, personalities, similar attitudes, and career fields. The only organization to do so based on who you are as a person and not a random algorithm. So far, the organization has matched over 300 connections, or over 600 women in the Quad Cities.
Lead(her) gives women the opportunity to connect with who they need to connect with, but also provides women the opportunity to break out of their comfort zone. The nonprofit is meant to build confidence, help women engage in their community, and set and crush their goals. In the words of Megan Hasselroth, it is an organization “for women, by women.” Twice a year the organization opens a cycle to new mentees, yesterday being the most recent opening. It can take up to four to six weeks for the nonprofit to match you to a mentor. There is an application on the Lead(her) website where prospective mentees answer questions about what kind of relationship they want with their mentor, informal or formal, and what they expect from a mentor. “Bringing women together when women have been pushed back their whole life is super powerful,” says Hasselroth. The matching process is detailed and isn’t immediate, but it allows the organization to create strong relationships between women who can benefit and learn from each other. Hasselroth describes the organization as being one with an “awesome community” that builds a strong support system of likeminded women. “Mentors are able to give constructive criticism to help with growth, the real world is not built like that,” Hasselroth states.
I think we have all carried some fear and uncertainty with graduation. It’s scary and almost overwhelming to consider what our job prospects may be, wondering how we could possibly make connections in a field we know nothing about “Women experience barriers men usually do not experience,” Hasselroth stated during our interview and she is not wrong. Women are already in a position of ambiguity in the workplace. Add the variety of mixed circumstances women face, and it can be nearly impossible, or feel that way at least, to meet professional goals. Just having a conversation with Megan was incredibly inspiring, and she runs an entire organization aimed at giving hundreds of women that inspiration and confidence. “The world keeps moving, and it’s important to learn new things. Lead(her) teaches women the tools to drive,” Megan told me during our call. In a passionate rant about the strength of women and their connections she mentioned, “we keep growing, there is no topping out.” While our college degrees make us qualified to work in a particular field, they do not teach us to be adults. They don’t show us how to network within our career field and they don’t teach us how to accomplish our goals after we walk across that stage. That’s something we have to learn all on our own, and Lead(her) was created to help women do just that. If you’re a woman who is feeling uncertain about your future, know that you are not alone. There are women out there who have felt the same way you are now, and they want to help you make those connections.