August 2022 | Q&A Spotlight

Here’s why you should consider a mentee-mentor relationship with someone of the opposite gender

Here’s why you should consider a mentee-mentor relationship with someone of the opposite gender

West Monroe recognizes the importance of investing in employees and prepping them for the career they want. “We support and partner with all our employees at every step of their career path.”

As part of this emphasis on career development, West Monroe boasts a strong mentorship program. “Mentorship is something that’s a part of our culture, and you can definitely feel that here,” explains Sarah Kennedy, who serves as a manager on West Monroe’s Visual Design team, where she oversees a “small but mighty” team of four female designers. 

I’ve never worked at a place full of so many driven people who truly invest in each other.


One of these supportive colleagues is Kennedy’s own mentor, Danny Freeman, a partner within West Monroe’s Energy and Utilities Practice. Freeman’s favorite part of his job is working with his team each day and getting to both learn from them and “spend meaningful time on their ongoing development,” he says. On being a mentor, he notes that “West Monroe has always been a ‘People First’ organization, and my sincere intention is to pay forward the investment that the firm and my mentors have consistently made in me.”

Here, they both unpack everything about their day-to-day roles and what it’s like working with each other — plus the benefits of having a mentor and mentee of the opposite gender.

Tell us a bit about your job

Sarah Kennedy: My team serves the entire firm for client proposals, website graphics and design, digital advertising, collateral for employees, and much more. In my day-to-day, I focus specifically on proposals and business development, so I work directly with consultants to craft a compelling presentation with an elevated design. 

Danny Freeman: I am a partner within our Energy and Utilities practice. I am responsible for a variety of initiatives related to the growth of our practice and our people, including driving new business opportunities with our clients as well as leading our large-scale offerings that seek to transform the energy landscape. This includes the integration of renewable resources and deploying technologies that empower grid operators to improve performance and the customer experience. I am also accountable for growing and developing our talented team members, both personally and professionally.

Sarah, why did you pick Danny as your mentor? What is it like having a male mentor?

Sarah Kennedy: Danny became my mentor back in 2019 through a formal program that West Monroe’s Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) offers. The program is designed to create relationship-building opportunities for women that may not happen organically. 

I was extremely lucky to be paired with Danny — not only do we collaborate on proposals together, but he also has a long tenure at West Monroe. He gives me great advice both in my day-to-day but also for my career, filled with the knowledge he’s gained about West Monroe. He’s been instrumental in helping me prepare for tough conversations with my bosses and suggests how to advocate for myself. And as I grew as a manager, he’s given me fantastic advice on how to be an authentic leader. 

Danny, why did you pick Sarah as your mentee? What is it like having a woman mentee?

Danny Freeman: Sarah and I were matched based on the process and structure of the program with the intention to pair people from separate parts of the organization that otherwise would not have the chance to interact.

This has led to more free-flowing conversations and less of the inherent bias that can exist in relationships that originate within the same team. It allows both Sarah and me to have open and honest conversations and identify new and creative ways to address challenges and take advantage of opportunities.

As far as having a woman mentee, thankfully, I have had the chance to work closely with many talented women during my time at West Monroe. However, the nature of this program is unique and valuable, which I am grateful for.

What are the benefits of having a mentor/mentee of the opposite gender? Are there any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

Sarah Kennedy: There are a lot of benefits! I work with a team that’s primarily female, and my bosses have also been women. It’s great to gain a new point of view from a gender standpoint and from someone outside of my team. Also, I partner with many male consultant leaders, so Danny helps share that perspective as a leader in his practice.

The benefits also come from the type of person that Danny is. He’s helped me learn to advocate for myself and my team and empowers me to know that I have a seat at the table and that I bring my own point of view to leadership. It’s only been a positive experience for me, and I’m lucky to have such a great mentor in Danny!

Danny Freeman: Working with Sarah and other female mentees over the years has provided me with an improved perspective on the unique challenges that many women face in the workplace, particularly a career that is traditionally heavily male, like consulting. 

A challenge that I have tried to embrace is to listen more, seek to understand and be more conscious and mindful of my own and others’ biases that have a real impact on women professionals. This has hopefully helped me become a meaningful resource to Sarah in her professional journey, as well as to other women that I lead and mentor in my role.

What makes this program special?

Sarah Kennedy: There are a lot of things that make this program really shine. First, finding someone who’s interested in being a mentor can sometimes be hard and it can be difficult to put yourself out there and ask someone. The program at West Monroe makes it really easy to find those who have a passion for mentoring. Secondly, it gives women an opportunity to get to know someone they may have never worked with before; it helps build their own internal network as they grow in their career.

Along with that, it can give them a new perspective on their career (maybe from a mentor who works in a different function or area of West Monroe). It can be easy to default to our immediate teams for input on our career growth, but having an outsider’s point-of-view can help bring a well-rounded perspective to how we think about ourselves and our personal career growth. 

Danny Freeman: What has made my relationship with Sarah unique and different, aside from her being an amazing person, is the overarching charge of the program, which is to drive inclusion, eliminate barriers and focus on the professional development of women. These topics can feel taboo at times, and as a part of my own professional journey, I have tried to find the right ways to broach them with our people in a way that is genuine and meaningful.

This program takes that pressure off. It allows Sarah and I the freedom and shared expectation to discuss her perspective and experiences as a successful and ambitious woman, but to also not limit our conversations to those topics alone. I believe our relationship is richer for it, and if Sarah has taken away half as much as I have from our partnership, then I would feel grateful.

Read the article as it appeared on Fairy God Boss.

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