How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

From Marissa Mayer to Martha Stewart: Dinner with the Most Powerful Women

May 24, 2011: 1:14 PM ET

Real power, I've often said, is what you can do beyond your job description.

Google VP Marissa Mayer

The 180 women convening tonight at the annual "Fortune Most Powerful Women Evening With..." dinner in New York City know this -- or they will before the night is done. Among the leaders with us will be Xerox (XRX) CEO Ursula Burns (who I will be interviewing at tonight's event), Wal-Mart (WMT) Chief People Officer Susan Chambers, and Google (GOOG) VP Marissa Mayer, all three of whom happen to be "mentors" in a global program that Fortune runs In partnership with the U.S. State Department.

Also at the event will be New York's most influential women -- including Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, and Martha Stewart -- but the real stars of the evening will likely be the 26 mentees who came to the U.S. from around the world to take part in this Fortune-State Department Mentoring program. Over the past month, we've paired each of these rising-star businesswomen, from 16 developing countries, with U.S.-based execs who attend Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit.

These mentees have spent the past couple of weeks shadowing the top women at Fortune 500 companies such as American Express (AXP), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and Dupont (DD), as well as Google and Walmart. And yesterday when I met with these mentees, who have just finished their stints at the host companies, many told me that they've had "epiphanies" that will significantly alter their work back at home.

All for the good. This is power in the making.

The long-term goal, as the MPWomen mentors and we at Fortune view it, is to make a difference somewhere out in the world -- yes, way outside anyone's job description. As this year's mentees -- the sixth class since we launched the mentoring program in 2006 -- prepare to return home, we're urging them to "pay it forward." Goldman Sachs (GS), which has hosted a mentee from Nigeria this year, partners with Fortune on an annual award for mentee alums who most productively deploy their power back in their home countries.

If all this sounds very female, that's because it is. As I write this Postcard, I'm sitting in a room at Goldman Sachs, listening to well-known entrepreneur Gerry Laybourne (who created the Oxygen cable TV network) speak to the 26 mentees. Laybourne is telling the group that women --- even powerful women -- tend to be lousy at self-promotion. "We don't know how to toot our own horns," she says, adding, "If you don't toot your own horn, toot another woman's horn."

In other words, spread the power. That's what tonight is all about.

Posted in:
Join the Conversation
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

Email Pattie Sellers | Welcome to Postcards.
Follow Pattie | email newsletter
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by VIP.