For one successful attorney and executive, mentoring is a way to pay back those who helped her. She's also paying it forward.
Melanie Griffin's favorite piece of advice is “plan to succeed, not to fail.”
It's something she's had to work on herself.
Women constantly question themselves, she says, thinking of the what ifs. “What if I don't get the job? What if I don't get in?” Griffin says. “While I think failure is necessary to learn and grow, women are successful more often than not.”
To empower women and build confidence for young professionals, Griffin, a commercial litigator and shareholder at Dean Mead, founded Spread Your Sunshine. The organization is focused on mentoring support for women ages 22-35, including graduate students and young professionals, but Griffin says it is open to anyone.
Confidence in the workplace is a widespread issue for women, she says. Women account for half of law school graduates, for example, says Griffin, but make up only 19% of management or equity roles at firms seven years later.
Griffin, 37, is currently mentoring somewhere between two- and four-dozen women through personalized sessions, and her advice reaches thousands more online. It really started as a kind of “social media experiment,” Griffin says, when she started to post on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. People quickly began to reach out to her for advice, or sharing stories of how she inspired confidence, Griffin says.
Confidence was something Griffin lacked when she was younger — especially in a man's business world, she says. Griffin was raised primarily by her mom, who served as her first mentor. She didn't have a male figure in her upbringing.
Griffin now cites listening to mentors as one of the reasons she's been successful. Her husband, Mike Griffin, senior managing director for Savills Studley Occupier Services and chairman of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, frequently serves as her mentor. If she's cautious about inviting a contact to dinner, thinking it might be too forward, he reminds her she shouldn't hold back, and she's probably putting too much thought into it, she says.
Renee Thompson, former president of the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Association, also served as a mentor for Griffin, teaching her about positive leadership and how to motivate people. Thompson gave Griffin confidence to address the board. Thompson also helped her work on her weaknesses, Griffin says, including interpreting contextual clues, even though she's a literal person.
Mentoring must have had its impact: Griffin not only worked her way up to managing partner at Dean Mead, but also founded the firm's Tampa office from scratch. Most of the firm's expansions have been through acquisitions that provide some kind of foundation, but in Tampa, Griffin says she “started with nothing.”
Griffin has been volunteering in some form since at least high school. Now she aims to provide mentoring support to more people by posting materials online and by encouraging other executives to join Spread Your Sunshine. Griffin wants to build out her website with a blog, recorded speeches and trainings, such as confidence training so people could access the materials even if they can't reach her on the phone.
While different industries have unique challenges, Griffin says other executives can find mentees simply by looking around. Says Griffin: “I guarantee there is a wallflower who is dying for someone to come save them and introduce them around the room.”
Executive: Melanie Griffin, Shareholder, Dean Mead Law Firm, Tampa
Organization: Spread Your Sunshine
Mission: Tampa-based nonprofit provides mentoring to young female professionals — from how to prepare for an interview to how to write applications for grad school to balancing career and family.
Giveback: Griffin launched Spread Your Sunshine in spring 2017. At any given time, Griffin mentors two to several dozen women, she says, dedicating up to 20 hours a week to the cause. Her next goal: get more online exposure.