After decades as a corporate lawyer, banker and nonprofit executive director, Betsy Werley hit midlife and decided to dedicate her energy and talents to change the culture for others in the years formerly occupied by retirement. Today, as director of network expansion for Encore.org, Betsy is the indefatigable connector of hundreds of leaders and organizations working on a new vision for extended midlife.
While her day job is all about older people, Betsy’s extracurricular life is all about empowering young people — specifically female college students preparing for careers in business and finance. “It’s really all part of the same thing,” Betsy told me, “helping people achieve their full potential at every stage of life.”
Fifteen years ago, as president of the Financial Women’s Association, Betsy started a mentoring program at Baruch College, matching undergraduate women with successful women in business.
“Baruch is one of the most diverse schools in the country with a high proportion of first-generation immigrants and first-generation college students,” Betsy said. “These young people are the future, and they face big challenges — equal to the ones we faced as the first generation of women to build professional careers.”
The program started long before Encore.org’s Generation to Generation campaign, but it shares the same mission — tapping experienced people to help young people succeed and, in the same breath, fighting inequality in the next generation.
In the past 15 years, the program has served 250 students. And Betsy herself has mentored 10 young women, most of whom she’s still in touch with today. On December 7, Baruch College honored Betsy for this work with its Community Partner Award.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Betsy, 62, and her current mentee, Ana Llana, 22, who moved to New York City from Albania in 2014. Below are snippets of conversation between Betsy and Ana about their relationship.
On the value of connecting
Ana: My mom is one kind of mentor, but not for my career. Betsy is a totally different kind of mentor. Betsy is a role model for me as a businesswoman and also a representation of a different culture from the Albanian one.
Betsy: My relationships with Ana and other mentees are life enhancing on a lot of levels. It’s an opportunity to support a young person as she launches her career by sharing my own experiences. And it’s also a chance to connect with someone from a different culture and generation, and see the world through her eyes.
Ana: I talk to Betsy about career confusions and I know she is thinking about what’s best for me. With my peers, I’m not sure they can do that without thinking of themselves. They put themselves in the situation and think of the decision they would make. And we are also kind of competing.
Betsy: My goal is to help Ana make the best decisions for herself. The best things I can do are listen, ask questions, share experiences and my thought process. Of course I’m also thinking about how to communicate with a college student — more text than email, never leave a voicemail. The obvious!
On career choices
Ana: When I decided to pursue investment banking I knew it would be challenging to prove myself. One key moment that was important for my relationship with Betsy was when I had multiple outstanding accounting offers and I was discussing with Betsy that I thought of declining them since I wanted to do investment banking. Unlike others who insisted on me accepting those offers, Betsy encouraged me to follow my intuition and not settle for something that I did not want. That meant a lot to me to have her support and knowing that she believed in me. I am happy I did so because I was able to pursue an investment banking internship at Barclays for the upcoming summer.
Betsy: Ana is an accounting major but decided to focus on investment banking jobs for her junior summer internship, which some could see as risky for a variety of reasons. I encouraged her to trust her instincts and to study up quickly on investment banking to be competitive. Once she set that goal, my role was to support her, encourage her, and help her create a path to achieving that goal.
On what’s next
Ana: Receiving so much support from Betsy and FWA has inspired me to continue being involved with the organization and to give back to others. After I graduate, I want to become a mentor for other students. Actually, I am currently participating in a tax mentorship program and my mentee just moved from China to study accounting. I decided to participate because my relationship with Betsy is important and has helped me a lot. I would love to be able to help out others in such way.
Betsy: Even though we’ve known each other for just four months, I can tell Ana and I will be lifelong friends. And the Baruch mentoring program will continue transforming students’ and mentors’ lives for another 15 years – and more.