Exeleon Magazine

Taking a Closer Look at the Importance of Female Mentorship

Liz Toombs Female Mentorship PDR Interiors

The following is an article written by Liz Toombs, Owner and Lead Decorator of PDR Interiors. In this article she highlights the importance of female mentorship. This is part of Exeleon’s Women History Month Celebration issues.

The phrase “be who you needed when you were younger” plays on loop in my head. I don’t recall when I first heard it or who said it. What I do know, however, is how much it resonates with me. That simple phrase is a powerful guideline for the decisions that I make both personally and professionally. It echoes in my mind when I interact with my nieces. It is the driver for how I lead my team members, and it is the “why” behind the mentoring focus of PDR Interiors, an interior decorating firm I manage and founded nearly 15 years ago.

One thing that intrigues me about the phrase is that the term “younger” is relative. When I was in my 20s, it would make me think of myself as a young child, likely elementary school age. Then in my 30s, I began to identify my younger self as college-aged Liz. Now that I’m in my 40s, that word brings to mind my early days as a young working professional. Who and what I needed at each of those junctures in life looked very different. I am extremely fortunate to have had some exceptional female role models over the years who taught me so much and helped shape my outlook on life across multiple fronts.

Who I needed?

My paternal grandmother was a nurturer. She was a teacher by profession. Many of my brightest childhood memories took place in her presence or at her home. I watched her host gatherings for her friends and make special efforts to stay connected with them via phone calls and by sending thoughtful cards in the mail. She saw the creative side of me and encouraged my artistic nature. She modeled how spending time connecting with people makes them feel seen and understood.

In college, I worked part time as a nanny for several families. A commonality those families shared was working mothers, many of whom owned their own business. It was inspiring to witness their respective successes as hairdressers, realtors, and attorneys. I was immersed in their homes helping them take care of their children and absorbed the stories they told about their life experiences. Hearing them talk about how they got their start and witness how far they’d come was highly impactful while completing my college education and deciding what path to take myself.

As a young professional, I encountered a group of amazing women that were worthy of emulation. One of the most special among them was Lulu, a client I worked with for over a decade. She had a penchant for mentoring and fostering young talent throughout her life. She came to me with wild ideas for her home and had full confidence that I would figure out how to make them come to fruition. Her belief in me gave me the confidence to try new things and explore design options that I would not have considered otherwise.

Very few of the moments I shared with these women were formal appointments with a goal to discuss a certain topic or for me to learn a new life skill. Most of these moments just happened and I didn’t recognize how much they shaped me until many years later.

Mentorship is rarely an official arrangement. Instead, like my stories, it’s a relationship fostered naturally where one woman teaches, encourages, or shares her life experiences with another. I recognize how each of these mentors gave me confidence to get to the next stage of my life. When I examine how I approach relationships in my life, I see the reflections of each of these special women.

The effect of mentorship

I am an extroverted introvert. I like to engage one-on-one or in small groups to have more intimate conversation and connection with people. I adore sending a handwritten note to someone, whether that be to thank them for a gift or just to let them know they are special to me. When a friend shares a dream or goal, she has for herself, I am right there cheering her on and helping figure out how to make it happen. This is a direct result of my grandmother’s influence.

I am contacted regularly by numerous young professionals about breaking into the design field. I would be lying if I told you I’m thrilled every time I get an inquiry. Sometimes, I’m in the thick of my busy season and the last thing I perceive having time for is interviewing or creating space for a new team member. At the very least though, I always take a coffee meeting. Do you know what happens every time? The conversation gives me a sense of purpose. When I talk about my career path, I am reminded that all the experiences I have had happened for a reason. Even if that reason is only to share it with someone else to help them as they navigate the same situation, just as the moms I nannied for shared with me 20 years ago.

I lead a small team of designers and interns at PDR. I honestly prefer a smaller firm over a large company environment, back to the extroverted introvert thing! My style of leadership is to let my people have ownership of their project as I don’t want to micromanage. I offer them guidance when needed and help them with any hurdles, but otherwise I want them to have autonomy in their work. My belief is that this style of work lets them learn the most effectively. If they make a mistake, they recognize that mistake is theirs and now know how to avoid it in the future. If they have a win, that is their win. They can celebrate it and be proud of themselves. I believe that letting somebody have the space to figure it out on their own makes them a better designer and professional. I credit Lulu for that philosophy.

Who Needs You?

I challenge you to examine the areas in your life where you could mentor those coming up behind you. Who did you need when you were younger? How can you be that to the young women you encounter? Maybe you see opportunity with your children, co-workers, or fellow book club members. I assure you there are plenty of people out there who could benefit from your experience if you would only share it.

About Liz Toombs:

Liz Toombs is a Certified Interior Decorator and the Owner/Lead Decorator for PDR Interiors, a firm she launched nearly 15 years ago in Lexington, Kentucky. She is known as the go-to decorator for sorority interiors on college campuses. The work of Toombs and the PDR Interiors team can be seen on more than 100 college campuses across 25 states in all regions of the country. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and an alumna of Alpha Gamma Delta. Mentoring women is a keystone of PDR, something Toombs learned to value through her fraternity experience.

Read Digital Version of the Issue.

Visit PDR Interiors Website.

Exeleon’s Women History Month.

Transformational Women Leaders - Exeleon Magazine

Read Previous

Revolutionizing Women’s Health: The Need for Gastrointestinal Solutions

Read Next

Marsha Stone: Leading the Way in Addiction Recovery