Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — For her 40th birthday, Meghan Markle, the duchess of Sussex, challenged 40 friends — and anyone else who wanted to participate — to spend 40 minutes mentoring women returning to the workforce.
And Utah women are taking her up on it.
"Over 2 million women in the United States alone, and tens of millions around the world have lost their jobs to COVID. And I think if we all do it and we all commit toward an act of service, we can create a ripple effect," Markle said to actress Melissa McCarthy prior to an invitation to participate. A video promoting the campaign was posted on Markle's Archewell website.
Utah artist Caitlin Connolly was scrolling through Instagram when she came across Georgia politician, activist and author Stacey Abrams' post stating that she was participating in the initiative. During the pandemic, women were first in line to sacrifice their career goals to care for their families, Abrams had explained, and this was a chance to help people get back on their feet.
"Something about that really hit home with me," Connolly said. "I've been curious about how to help women more, and 40 minutes felt completely doable, even with a busy schedule."
Connolly, whose work frequently speaks to the female experience and focuses on the divine feminine purpose, also posted about her commitment to Markle's campaign.
"I have had many people mentor me in the creative field and I would love to offer that to someone else," she posted on Instagram Thursday. Around 300 women commented in response, asking to be considered candidates, many of them asking for help to share personal, vulnerable parts of themselves through art.
"It was overwhelming to me, the great need that women have — though this is true for all men and women — in trying to figure out how to user their voice," she said. "There were a lot of questions about how to learn more about yourself and how to share that externally. Art is a beautiful tool to do that."
In the wake of all the responses, helping one person seemed like it was almost too few, so Connolly is pondering what more she can do to help more women. She fears that 40 minutes isn't enough time to make an impact, but she remembers that some of the most impactful conversations she's had were just a few words, so she hopes that it will be enough to really help someone.
"The world needs more women speaking more truth. And I hope I can help create a pathway to get between women recognize their truth and being able to share their truth. It requires a lot of difficult, personal work. I'm hoping to find a way that I could help more building bridges between those things," Connolly said.
Kara Wight Burton, learning experience design manager at Purple, felt drawn to the campaign as soon as she heard about it.
"The things Meghan Markle has been through in her whole life, but especially the last few years, she has handled with such grace. It proves just how strong she is. And the fact that she identified this problem and wants to help fix it, even with everything she's gone through, speaks to how classy of a person she is. That's real leadership," she said.
"I already knew that I liked her, but it really just spoke to my soul that she saw this issue and was working toward it."
During her master's program in instructional technology and learning science, Wight Burton started a 'Parks & Recreation'-inspired Instagram account dedicated to providing professional resources for working women. She is involved with social media groups that aim to help women in the business world, and as a mother, she has also seen the immense value of women outside of business.
"It's a life goal of mine to help women to realize that the experience they have, even if it's not considered work experience or paid experience, is valuable," she said.
She, too, accepted Markle's challenge and is donating her mentorship to help women find their path to where they want to be professionally, in any field. Among many other things, Wight Burton is skilled in training, identifying opportunities to close knowledge gaps, writing resumes and preparing people for job interviews and the hiring process. And she is particularly excited to be able to offer it all to women in Utah.
"It's interesting that in Utah, which is traditionally a very pro-family place, we still have a lot of stigmas surrounding women working," she said. "Women here make up a huge untapped labor force, and we're not doing what we can to let them join us however much or however little they want to. It places an undue burden on women who have so much to bring to the table."
Most mentors are posting about their interest to donate time to other women in social media groups or on their personal pages. Women in search of mentoring can find these opportunities by searching the hashtag #40x40.
"If you are able, please join us and pledge 40 minutes today in service of others in the way that feels right to you," Markle said. "The time that you donate can contribute to a global wave of service and set in motion meaningful impact in our own communities, and across the world."