‘You Taught Me That’

Pat Schneider and Lauren Burt say their relationship provides them with continual opportunities to grow and learn.

Photographer: Ivory House Photography

Lauren Burt, worldwide communications manager at Kemin Industries, and her mentor, Pat Schneider, a real estate agent for Ferguson Commercial and a community volunteer, developed a strong mentoring relationship when Burt joined Junior League more than 10 years ago. Several years after joining, at age 27, the now 33-year-old Burt became president of Junior League’s local chapter, a position Schneider had held some 20 years earlier. 

The two recently stopped by dsm’s offices for a conversation, and as we listened in, what emerged was a clear example of what makes a mentoring relationship work—accessibility, trust, honesty, engagement, support, respect, communication and collaboration. The following is an excerpt.

dsm: Lauren, how did Pat’s mentorship help you in your role as president of Junior League?

Lauren Burt: I’ve appreciated the fact that Pat is always accessible and available, and I was really glad to have that accessibility when we had to move the Bargain Basket at Junior League. That’s one of the oldest fundraisers for the organization, and there were a lot of emotions involved in moving its location.

I saw how Pat used her knowledge, wisdom and all the tools in her toolbox to help make it happen—with grace and calmness but also strength.

Some of my friends from Junior League call me ‘Baby Pat,’ which is an honor; Pat is such a big personality and such a strong leader. A good leader is someone who will tell you what you need to hear, even if that’s a tough conversation. Pat has a calming presence even though she’s so strong and smart and strategic. When I was president of Junior League, I would always feel better after talking to her.

Pat Schneider: Well, Lauren knew that I would tell her exactly what I thought, as opposed to what I thought she wanted to hear. But I get the same honesty from her. One thing I noticed about you, Lauren, is that you handle yourself so well and that as you watch people, you learn from them.

Burt: When I’m with people like you, Pat, I try to be a sponge: How do they dress? How do they speak? How do they handle those tough conversations? I once heard someone say, “You cannot be whom you do not see.” That really resonated with me as a young woman because if you don’t see a woman in the CEO’s office or in a successful position, it’s hard to know what to do and how to get there. Pat and the women in her generation have been the people to “see” for my generation.

Schneider: And my generation had the Allison Flemings, the Barbara Grahams—the women we looked up to and said, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” When I heard Barbara speak at dsm’s Sages Over 70 event, I thought, “This woman is amazing. She’s 94 and she’s still like that sponge, absorbing new things and being involved in the community.”

dsm: Beyond Junior League, how have the two of you worked together?

Burt: One thing I’ve wanted to do is get more involved with women’s issues as a volunteer. With the outcome of the election, I decided I wanted to do something to help ensure women’s rights. I emailed Pat the day after the election and said, “I need your help. I want to get involved in Planned Parenthood. Whom can I talk to?” Pat got right back to me and said, “We’ll set up a lunch.”

Schneider: I was thrilled when Lauren reached out. Women’s issues are extremely important, and we have to make sure that we bring younger women along with us because they’re the ones who are going to be most affected by the changes going on.

Burt: With the current [political] climate, we can be mad, we can be sad, we can be angry. But I’m someone who wants to do something about it. I agree that women’s issues are important, and I feel that the health care of women and girls is at risk. Something I’ve learned from Pat is that she’s vocal about what she supports. And I think that example encourages other people to speak up.

Schneider: I believe you have to be able to stand your ground and say why something is important to you. There will be people who disagree, and that’s fine. One thing the election taught us is that we must become more civil with one another. There has to be a way that people can disagree and not have it turn into a personal attack. The lack of civility seems to be more pervasive than ever, and it makes me feel sad that we can’t seem to get beyond that. I don’t want my grandchildren growing up thinking that’s the norm.

Burt: I don’t, either; today’s lack of civility seems to embolden bullies and people who speak off the cuff in a negative way. That’s not what I’ve learned from Pat. I’ve never seen Pat lose her temper or treat someone poorly, even in a heated situation. I think that’s an art.

Schneider: I think you learn both the good and the bad from other people. When I’ve had bosses who haven’t been as good as others, I learned that I never wanted to make someone feel bad.

By the same token, you look at the good bosses and think, “That’s how I want to be because I want to make people feel as good as this person just made me feel.”

I don’t know that women in general are as good at praising other women as they could be because I think sometimes women may tell themselves, “If I make them look better than I am, I’ll look worse.” We’ve got to get out of that mindset.

Burt: I agree. I think sometimes women say, “If I’m winning, that means someone else is losing. There’s not enough success or money to go around.” But that’s not true. … Some women talk about helping younger women, but then when push comes to shove, they don’t want to do the work or they have a negative perception of women of a different generation. Pat has always been an advocate of women my age. For women like you, if you see me succeed, you feel like you’ve succeeded.

Schneider: It’s easy to be an advocate of you and your friends. I’ve noticed when you all put your creative strengths together, you get the job done and have a lot of fun in the process.

Burt: You taught me that, too—how to have fun while doing the work. What’s always interesting about Pat is that she’ll chair the committee, but then also do the fundraising and set up the event—she’ll do the dirty work. Watching you, Pat, I learned that you can’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do.

Schneider: That’s extremely important in leadership roles. People know that whatever you say, you’re going to follow through.

dsm: A difference between your generations has emerged several times in this conversation. What ideas do you both have on how to bridge that gap?

Schneider: I think we have to figure out a way to communicate with young women, not only on the issues but also how we can address some of those issues. We have to be vocal enough so that people listen to what we’re saying. And I worry sometimes that young women feel that they don’t have a voice. We have to figure out a way to help them speak up. If we don’t, I don’t know what will happen.

So my question to Lauren is, what else can my generation do? How do we get younger women more involved so that my generation can step back and let you all take the reins?

Burt: I think the key is to not stop asking. You know how it’s said that women don’t run for office unless they’re asked? Well, I never would’ve run for president of Junior League if you and other supportive women didn’t say, “We think you should go for it.”

Another thing you taught me is to call someone—get them on the phone, because it’s easy to deflect email, texts or Facebook messages. But if someone calls you or says face to face, “I need your help,” it makes people more engaged. Maybe some women just don’t know whom to call or they don’t feel like they have anything to give.

Schneider: I think some women don’t know where to start. So I’d tell young women, “Just pick up the phone. Ask someone to have coffee and tell them you’d appreciate picking their brain for 10 minutes.” It’s amazing how those kinds of conversations start people thinking about any number of things. Communication really is the key to everything.

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