Susan O'Brien is Founder/CEO of Smigin, a language learning startup with a unique focus on enhancing conversation skills. She is co-chair of IIBN, New York (Irish International Business Network) and is a driving force behind the LEAP initiative (Leadership and Executive Acceleration Program for young Irish women) within IIBN. It was her own mentoring experiences as a young professional working globally, then starting her own company in New York City, that prompted Susan to launch the LEAP initiative alongside her IIBN co-chair, Mary McEvoy, Senior Director at PepsiCo.

While women are underrepresented in higher-level corporate positions-there are role models out there who are looking to give back, and while networking groups for women have proliferated globally, outside of major corporations, many female employees have limited access to structured development programs with an exclusive focus on empowering female leadership. This is the mentoring void for young Irish women LEAP is seeking to fill.

For LEAP participants, the program is as much about having access to the wisdom of senior executives through a structured four-month program, as is about learning from each other. In addition to workshops, leadership trainings and an extensive suggested reading (and podcast listening) list, participants engage in peer-mentorship by working together on a community project.

1. How do you define "mentor" and "mentoring"?

It used to be that mentors were old people, or at least gray-haired, getting on in life, and a lot older than the mentee, but now, mentors are increasingly age-agnostic. A mentor in today's fast-paced economy, is someone inspirational, influential, an expert in their own right and someone whose counsel you would benefit professionally. That can range from a senior-level executive - as a new graduate, or a college senior - as a newly minted freshman. Yes, there is usually an age difference between mentor and mentee but it's become increasingly more about life/career experiences and the willingness to share them for the benefit of others, with disregard of age as a limiting factor.

2. Lots of young professionals, especially women, seek influential mentors. What is LEAP and how is it tackling this challenge?

LEAP is a Leadership and Executive Acceleration Program established to help young Irish and Irish-American women achieve their career goals faster. The Irish-American community in New York is incredibly active and is committed to supporting Irish and Irish-American diaspora. They want to help, but to be effective they require an organized structure to allow them to contribute to that diaspora's ecosystem. These are individually successful, busy people with maniacal demands on their time, so it's imperative to leverage their willingness to contribute within a framework that will allow them do just that.

3. How did you decide to approach mentorship in this way?

One-on-one mentoring is admirable but simply not practical for some individuals due to time constraints or heavy travel schedules. When we established LEAP, we looked around at what opportunities existed for young women and felt that if we created a cohesive platform with a holistic approach to mentoring we would increase our chances for the program's success. We recognized that most top executives wouldn't have the time to mentor multiple, let alone twelve young women, but yet they had so much expertise and counsel to offer them. So, we sought applications and put together a core group of like-minded, ambitious young women who would benefit individually and collectively from exposure to these industry leaders. It's a classic case of 'one to many' and it allows these industry leaders to give back to multiple young women.

4. What does success for the LEAP program look like?

LEAP began earlier this year as a pilot program. We were inundated with applications, and had the tough job of selecting only twelve participants. Success, for the LEAP program would be to see the expansion of the program at a greater scale in the USA and the ability to extend to other countries-including Ireland-to allow more young women the opportunity to participate. These are our future leaders. And there are no shortage of "mentors" who have volunteered to contribute to this "group" mentoring format. The mentors, as with LEAP's founders understand that the more young women who learn, benefit and grow from programs such as these, the better off we will all be.