Investing time in others was something my mother taught me would reap both personal and professional benefits. It wasn’t until after her death that I finally understood what it would mean for me as a woman.
My mother died from pancreatic cancer at the young age of 61. At her funeral, hundreds of women – from 25 all the way to 70 years old – came up to me and shared story upon story of how my mother had been a mentor to them. Person after person shared examples of how my mother had helped them graduate from college, establish their own businesses, get into other roles, or find new loves. They said how positive and encouraging my mother had been, and how the network of people she knew, including men, helped them immensely.
Getting involved in your community and mentoring is something most people value and plan to do later in life or their career. But after seeing my mother’s early passing, I realized that getting involved was not something to wait for. It was something to commit to and do right away.
Though I travel for my job as a sales leader at IBM, I invest my time and focus my community work in my home city of Atlanta, where I have seen this virtuous circle expand. Finding time to balance a family, work and giving to others is never easy. I’ve worked very hard to maintain these priorities in my life. And what I’ve come find is that a balance can be easily achieved because the time I invest in any one area benefits the others.
Over the last two years, I have made a commitment to mentoring, to encouraging women, and to networking with both women and men to help them advance their careers. Helping to build our next generation of authentic leaders with integrity, character and confidence is my goal. I mentor a college student and a second young adult fresh out of college, and find that I learn just as much from them as they learn from me. In this connected world with its porous boundaries between age and gender, it is important for us to stay fresh and understand what our newest generation of workers thinks. My guess is that pretty soon they’ll be sitting across the table from me as customers.
Among my many community activities, I serve on the Executive Board of Directors of TechBridge – an impactful nonprofit group in Atlanta that helps other nonprofits use technology to do more and serve more people. TechBridge focuses on technology that enables non-profits to focus on their missions. Working on the board, I’m collaborating with senior executives from some of the largest corporations across Atlanta, including McKesson, Turner, Home Depot and other firms.
I have had the opportunity to interact with people with other points of view and ways of doing business. What I’ve come to find is that our shared passion for helping others transcends job titles. Aside from building my own experience, I’ve also been able to leverage these relationships as part of my work at IBM – not only benefiting myself, but the company as a whole by opening new doors.
As within any company, we at IBM plan how we will get that meeting with a new executive or introduce a new employee to a client. The relationships I’ve made at TechBridge have enabled me to help my colleagues get business introductions or meet outside the office to work toward the common goal of serving our community.
Understanding the return on investment (ROI) my clients get from their work with IBM is something I appreciate everyday. It’s easy to quantify dollars, time and efficiency. But the ROI I get from my volunteer work – while difficult to quantify – has been crucial to my career and my company. Most important, the lessons I’ve learned and bring home to my family have been invaluable.
Marva Bailer is the IBM Business Unit Executive for North America Smarter Planet Industry Solutions.