Oxygen Hopes to Breathe Life Into Mentoring

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Gerry Laybourne wants organizations throughout the country to take steps to help mentor future women's leaders.

The Oxygen Media Inc. CEO said the women's-targeted network is launching “Oxygen Mentors: Bringing Along the Next Generation.” The public-affairs campaign will include both on-air interstitial elements and off-air components, plus an online mentoring program for young women, directed by executive coach Gloria Henn.

After a successful trek last year, “Mentor's Walk: Creating the New Girls Network” — in which executives and aspiring professional women walked together through New York's Central Park — will return for a similar saunter, this time on April 28. Plans are also underway for multi-city walks in Denver and Colorado Springs in August; in Portland, Ore., later this year; and in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles in 2007.

Oxygen has previously engaged in such public-affairs programs as “Choose to Lead,” which asked women to step up in the worlds of business and politics, and “Build Your Own Business,” through which the network supplied funds and resources for entrepreneurial women. Mentoring the next generation is “a bigger idea,” Laybourne.

“The vision is for women around the country to adopt mentoring walks as a regular practice,” she said, adding that Oxygen has been in contact with other women's groups and the Conference of Mayors to help promulgate the idea. “We want to have more mentoring walks and for others to hold them as well.”

Laybourne said the idea to hold last year's stroll in Central Park emanated from her own experience.

“As I have gotten older and busier, I don't always have the time to meet with people during breakfast, lunch or dinner,” she said. “But my assistant's been scheduling more and more walks in Central Park for me at 7 a.m. It's fun, great exercise and a way for me to help people with their careers.”

Working closely with Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO of advertising agency Kaplan Thaler Group, and New York City Film Commissioner Katherine Oliver, last year's walk came together quickly, attracting 60 mentors and 400 “mentees,” along with coverage on ABC's Good Morning America.

Laybourne said the parties were paired by expertise and interests, like finance, business and entertainment. Her group: four young women who want to start independent television networks. “God bless them,” she said.