5 famous women you didn-t know had a mentor-Grid.002 (1)

How does she do it? A thought we’ve all had at least once. Well, the secret’s out, and it turns out it has a lot to do with the support and guidance of other women – aka mentorship.

With women’s careers still progressing slower than men’s, being a mentor or mentee is something women of all ages and stages should be considering, whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder or have already found your fortune.

What if we told you that even some of the most successful and powerful women in the world have been in a mentor-mentee relationship at one stage of their careers? It’s reassuring to know that even those at the top of their game had a helping hand along the way.

AllBright was founded with a mission to supercharge women’s careers, and whilst Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama aren’t part of our community (yet!), we have a thriving Sisterhood of successful and inspiring women just itching to share their wisdom. So, it’ll come as no surprise that we’ll be launching our very own tool very soon.

Until then, start getting inspired (and surprised) by some of these famous female faces who have either mentored, or have been mentored, by each other. From Presidents and presenters to poets and pop stars, the proof’s in the pudding. So, let’s dig in.

1. Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey

famous women mentor mentee relationships mentorships oprah winfrey maya angelou

Yes, even Oprah had a mentor.

We know what you’re thinking, ‘who could possibly be qualified enough to mentor Oprah?’ But even women at the top of their game have so much to be gained from mentorship. Because the most successful women understand that learning never stops.

Enter legendary poet, author, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Although Maya was an all-around inspiration to many, there was one woman and friend who she paved the way for through mentoring.

Having inspired, challenged, and guided Oprah ‘through some of the most important years of [her] life,’ Maya shaped the powerhouse talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist we all know and love today. In fact, Oprah accredits ‘making it’ to her mentorship relationship with Maya.

‘Mentors are important, and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship.’ - Oprah Winfrey

2. Michelle Robinson mentored Barack Obama

famous women mentor mentee relationships mentorships michelle robinson barack obama

Ok, we know Barack Obama doesn’t technically qualify to feature on a list of famous female mentor-mentee relationships, but his mentor is certainly worth a shout out.

Known by her maiden name back then, Michelle Robinson was designated as Barack Obama’s mentor at the law firm they both worked at whilst he was a summer associate. Fast forward a few decades and she now goes by the name... Michelle Obama. What a meet-cute!

You know how the saying goes, ‘behind every great man there's a great woman.’ And whilst Michelle is a highly successful woman in her own right, Barack often still credits her today as being the support and success behind his great achievements. Talk about female empowerment.

3. Meryl Streep mentored Viola Davis

famous women mentor mentee relationships mentorships Meryl Streep Viola Davis

From friendship to mentorship, Viola Davis often recognises her friend and mentor Meryl Streep for giving her advice about her career and life. Specifically, lessons in confidence.

‘Meryl does it all the time. She [gives lessons in confidence] all the time. I think she does it in a way that she doesn’t even understand or think she’s doing it.’ - Viola Davis

Viola has taken the words right out of our mouth! We’re firm believers that all women are natural mentors and do it every day without even realising it. But, during a recent poll, we discovered that 1/3 of the AllBright community think they aren’t skilled enough to be a mentor. This smells like imposter syndrome, and with our new tool, we’re here to change this!

Take a leaf out of Meryl’s book – have confidence in your skills, knowledge, and most importantly, ability to support other women.

4. Tracey Africa mentored Laverne Cox

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This relationship is a perfect example of the importance of representation in the world of mentors and mentees.

‘It’s important to know that there’s been a path blazed for me.’ - Laverne Cox

Inspired by the path Tracey blazed for her, Laverne has gone on to become an icon and role model for countless other Black trans women around the world. Now, that’s the cycle of sisterhood for you.

Our tool puts the power in your hands – you can choose a mentor or mentee who you feel most seen, heard, and understood by. Because a world where women share all their skills and experiences with one another is a world where all women win.

5. Nora Ephron mentored Lena Dunham

famous women mentor mentee relationships mentorships Nora Ephron Lena Dunham

This whirlwind cross-generational mentorship between Nora Ephron and Lena Dunham has us right in the feels.

Nora reached out to Lena after seeing her independent film Tiny Furniture. Whether it was because she saw Lena as a younger version of herself, or she simply wanted to take a talented female writer under her wing, Nora proved it’s never too late to start a mentor-mentee relationship where the teaching is mutual.

This simple act of reaching out to another woman she admired sparked a year-and-a-half-long friendship and mentorship. From sweater recommendations to self-respect, the wisdom Nora imparted to Lena changed her life forever.

‘The opportunity to be friends with Nora in the last year of her life informs the entirety of mine. I am so grateful.’ - Lena Dunham

Without Nora’s confidence or connections, we know taking that first step is easier said than done. In fact, 2/3 of the AllBright community told us they don't know where to start when looking for a mentor. will do all the heavy lifting for you – we’re making mentorships work as hard as the women in them.​

Feeling inspired to supercharge your success? Fantastic.

Register your interest in becoming a mentor or mentee in our Mentor Matching movement .