Mentorship in the Modern Workplace
How to Develop Mutually Beneficial Mentoring Relationships at Every Stage of Your Career
I can remember feeling anxious as a new graduate about my first job and whether my boss would be a good mentor. I had heard repeatedly that without mentorship you are less likely to thrive and advance in your career.
Did it matter that my boss was a man? I had learned plenty from previous male teachers, so I didn't see what the big deal was if I couldn't find a woman to guide me.
Fifteen years into my career I have a different perspective on what it is to be mentored and to mentor others. And yes, I feel strongly that women in the workplace should have other women to show them the ropes.
Not everyone is interested in guiding new hires. I have been through periods where my career was difficult or stagnant and having to influence a shiny new recruit in a positive way when my own outlook was less than upbeat was frustrating.
I think it can be incredibly valuable though, for other women to observe your struggles and the rocky realities of the workplace. Not every lesson is learned from success and good times, and part of showing someone the ropes is to let them see your failures too.
There are just some things that men will never experience in their careers. Working while pregnant is one. Random sexually charged comments from clients and questions about their "availability" are also less likely.
Women have to approach many aspects of career differently than their male counterparts. From salary negotiations to office politics, female workers have to not only perform well but be team players with a likable personality to advance.
The lack of female mentors in my own life became more acute as I encountered challenges unique to my sex. It was not that the men I worked with were unsympathetic, it was just that they had no first-hand experience with the things I was going through.
Time and job changes brought more women into my domain. I had cohorts and junior team members that I developed connections with. I found that I had more informal and unstructured relationships with these women but that we learned a lot from each other.
See, that is the thing with mentorship, you do not necessarily have to seek it out or expect it in traditional settings. Letting bonds grow organically by sharing ideas and asking questions of co-workers, clients and people outside of your professional sphere can lead you to mentors.
Expecting one person to guide you in all aspects of your work for your entire career is unreasonable. A network of individuals who offer you different perspectives is much more sustainable and enriching.
My advice for women just entering the workforce is to approach mentorship with patience and a positive attitude. Finding the right fit takes time and multiple attempts.
Sign up for corporate mentorship programs if they are available to you. Join community organizations and volunteer for committees with women you admire. It can be great to have women to talk to who do not work directly with you and can view your concerns dispassionately.
You will build your own skill set faster by having several sources of guidance. It is also easier to manage your expectations when a mentoring relationship sours if you have other people you can still learn from.
When you have hit your stride in your career you are often in a position to mentor students or junior associates. Rather than viewing this as a one-way flow of information, try and see what your mentee is bringing to the table.
Perhaps it is the energy that comes with enthusiasm and new experiences that can help you view your job in a fresh light. Maybe your student can teach you how to better utilize social media in your business to reach a new customer base.
Celebrating learning and cherishing sources of new ideas will help you to grow your matrix of resources in unexpected ways. You never know where your mentees will end up in their lives and you may find yourself calling upon their skills in the future.
Women advanced in their careers (or venturing out into their newest reincarnation) are in the enviable position of being trendsetters for mentorship. These individuals have the authority to draw attention to the needs of women in the workplace as a whole.
Developing mentoring organizations for career women and opportunities for networking across disciplines is more vital than ever before. Offering women a space where they can connect, especially if they work freelance or in a male-dominated profession, is the prerogative of the experienced career woman.
Look around and you will see many amazing leaders in this position paying it forward by extending a helping hand to others be it by writing books, setting up internships or organizing conferences.
Female career mentorship is out there. It may take a bit of time and effort to establish relationships with women in and outside of your field. Know that you will continue to develop new mutually beneficial connections throughout every stage of your professional life.
One day you may even be the one creating opportunities for younger women to connect with mentors who will ultimately change their lives.