(2 of 3) Women in Leadership at Graebel: Making the Case for Mentorship and Advice for Up-and-Coming Leaders
Graebel is evolving along with global Mobility and the rest of the world, creating exciting opportunities for people of all backgrounds to rise to leadership roles and that journey is rarely experienced alone. Mentorship, especially female mentorship, can help up-and-coming women leaders see the possibilities and achieve their potential. At Graebel, we are grateful to have exemplary women in senior leadership roles who inspire our next generation of leaders of all genders and backgrounds. We value a diverse workforce and leadership and embody intentional practices, so that all voices and perspectives are respected and heard. In part two of our Women in Leadership series, we met with Susan Fraser, vice president, client services; Sheana Robischon-Zales, vice president, international operations; Casey Phelps, senior vice president, client services; Vibeke Hahn, vice president, implementation services; and Pam Capecci, vice president, strategic business development, to discuss mentorship, its impact on their careers and their advice for future leaders.
How does mentorship (both mentoring and being mentored) benefit employees, and especially women in the workplace?
Fraser: In today’s fast-paced world, people don’t take enough time to talk. Mentorship forces a pause, and it helps people grow because they take the time to evaluate their careers and goals. So, mentorship is important across the board and across demographics, because everyone could benefit coaching and advice.
Hahn: Having someone that can be a sounding board, validate ideas, doubts and insecurities and talk through things in a safe space benefits employees, especially those that may not see that many of themselves represented in certain roles.
Capecci: Female mentorship provides an opportunity for women to practice supporting each other and building each other up, so that we collectively break barriers and reach our goals.
What are the qualities of a good mentor?
Hahn: I think a good mentor is someone who doesn’t make the mentorship about themselves, but rather seeks to understand the person they’re mentoring. A big part of that is being a great and accessible listener.
Capecci: A good mentor will help people be the best version of themselves and help them understand their potential.
Fraser: To me, a good mentor is someone who is approachable and transparent. I believe a mentor should be a safe harbor for mentees to feel comfortable having open and honest conversations and get a different perspective. I’ve really enjoyed mentoring up-and-coming employees and watching the success they’ve had. For example, Casey Phelps and I began working together back when I was at a previous job and I was her client. It’s so rewarding to watch Casey grow her career — she’s now a senior vice president! — and I’m grateful to have been part of her journey by helping her understand and navigate her work and roles over the years.
How has your mentor supported your career?
Fraser: [Graebel CEO and Chairman] Bill Graebel has been an amazing mentor to me throughout my career. He truly embodies Graebel’s values of truth, love and integrity and he always puts others’ needs first. When I was faced with a life changing career move that would take me away from Graebel, I turned to Bill for his honest guidance. He spent an hour coaching me through the pros and cons of the decision, even though it meant I could be leaving Graebel. What I appreciate most was that he set aside his feelings and spoke to me as a friend and mentor, not a boss. I took the position but ultimately came back to Graebel years later as a stronger employee for having had that experience. It’s so clear that Bill genuinely cares to see Graebel employees succeed — he’s always asking “What can I do, how can I help?” — and his leadership has cascaded down to other Graebel leaders, creating a really supportive and engaged leadership team.
Capecci: Having a mentor has helped me stay on track. A former Graebel employee has been my best mentor over the years. One piece of advice he gave me was that there will always be distractions, but you have to not let the distractions derail you — stay focused on your goal, or you will not reach it. This is brilliant and it really helps me put in perspective my priorities and my focuses, so that I can accomplish what I need to. It’s helped me so much, I give the same advice to others as they need it!
What advice has helped you throughout your career?
Phelps: When I moved to Prague years ago, I was accepting my first management position, so I was really learning my leadership style. I got the great advice to be the boss you always wanted. For me that means always being honest with people and acknowledging if we’re not in a great situation but committing to find a way to solve it. And doing all that while being true to yourself.
Robischon-Zales: Relationships are crucial, so never burn bridges. I believe in following the Golden Rule; you never know who you’re going to work with down the road and you always want to treat them with respect. Sometimes that can be easier said than done but it’s especially important in global mobility, where our entire industry is so close knit and really relies on having strong relationships.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you’d received earlier in your career?
Hahn: There are two pieces of advice. The first is to be your best self. You can admire others but don’t emulate them at the expense of your authentic self. The second is to live in the now because time goes by really fast. For me and many other working mothers (and fathers!) that means enjoying your family first, so that you can be your best self at work and at home. I know that can be difficult to do depending on your company, which is why I really appreciate that Graebel supports and encourages a family-first mentality.
Phelps: Failure is okay, you just need to learn from it. I want all employees to know that failing is okay. Nobody is perfect and you shouldn’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying.
Robischon-Zales: Get a mentor right away! There are so many benefits to having a mentor and if you find the right fit, they really can make a huge difference in your career. But know that it’s your responsibility to seek one out, don’t wait for one to come to you.
How has Graebel created a space for female mentorship throughout the company?
Fraser: Graebel has always fostered a spirit of growth and offered opportunities to underrepresented leaders ahead of the industry. Bill advocated for women in leadership decades ago and that continues today. For example, a couple years ago he formalized the director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) role and promoted Valencia Culbreath to that position. This true commitment to DEI and support for leaders of all backgrounds is why Graebel is an employer of choice and why so many employees have started as entry-level and worked their way into leadership positions.
Robischon-Zales: I had the opportunity to go to a women’s leadership retreat with other female Graebel leaders, which Graebel sponsored. It was such a transformative experience and I built relationships with other Graebel leaders that I now work with. In fact, I see them as mentors in a way and I’m so glad Graebel invested in us, allowing us to form bonds that help us be the best versions of ourselves.
Phelps: In the Czech Republic, women have three years of maternity leave. While there are so many benefits to that, it can certainly make it difficult to come back to work. I’m so proud of the EMEA regional team for the way they support their colleagues upon return and not only help them readjust but also to grow. Several women have come back from maternity leave and have worked their way to leadership roles; this creates a really positive culture for women to know that going on maternity leave doesn’t mean an end to your career at Graebel.
As these leaders’ experiences demonstrate, mentorship acts as a much needed pause in employees’ day-to-day lives to help them refocus, gain perspective, build relationships and grow in their careers. It’s needed not only to promote a culture of women supporting other women, but to create diversity across leadership. Graebel is committed to that effort, to create a more well-rounded company that encourages different perspectives and experiences to be heard and valued. Plus, as a global company, diversity reflects the clients and mobile employees we strive to create exceptional experiences for every day. Our hope is that in talking about diverse leadership, we can be a catalyst for growth and change in other parts of the world where it’s not as common.