LinkedIn surveyed more than 1,000 female professionals in the U.S. and 82 percent agreed that having a mentor is important. Fair enough. Yet, nearly 1 out of every 5 women reported never having a mentor. Furthermore, 52 percent of these women noted they hadn't had one because they "never encountered someone appropriate."
But before statistics prevail, why all the fuss about mentors and mentees? At the Pennsylvania Women's Conference where the study's findings were presented, LinkedIn's Connection Director, Nicole Williams, explains, "Tooting your own horn is just one of the many ways you can increase the likelihood that you'll shatter the glass ceiling and snag keys to that corner office," said Williams. "If you're uncomfortable speaking up about your accomplishments, then often times, your best bet is to seek out a sponsor or a mentor in your office who can vouch for you."
Kerry Hannon at Forbes argues that mentors can also be crucial to women in the tough job market, specifically boomer women, who are coincidentally the very demographic that is the most lacking in mentor relationships. According to LinkedIn, only 34 percent of Boomers (females between 45-66 years old) reported that they are being or have been mentored by women, a worrying statistic as mentors can help with starting second careers and changing fields, as many boomer women are, in a competitive landscape.
While Hannon finds this percentage unsettling, she also finds it expected, pointing out that many boomer women who entered the workforce didn't have a plethora of female higher-ups to turn to. Likewise, a survey released by USA Today earlier this month surveyed female CEOs, chairs and company founders in regards to workplace mentors. When asked to identify the one mentor who had the most influence on their careers, 33 of the 34 women who responded identified a man- perhaps further speaking to the greater number of men in high-ranking positions rather than a gender bias on behalf of working women.
On an encouraging note, times are indeed a-changin.' Forty-three percent of Gen X females (women between 30-44 years old) on LinkedIn surveyed noted that they are being or have been mentored by women and more than half (51 percent) of Gen Y women (females between 18-29 years old) reported the same. According to Forbes, many big corporations such as General Mills, IntelCorp, Ernst & Young, and Proctor & Gamble have also taken note, creating mentoring programs for their employees and some also offering programs specifically designed to increase the access women gain to senior management positions.
While younger females are finding greater success in securing a mentor, not all women have access to such programs, and LinkedIn found that sixty-seven percent of women who had never been a mentor reported they weren't mentoring another professional simply because "no one ever asked". It's time for all generations of working women to speak up.
Dr.Priya Nalkur-Pai, a professional coach who works with women on their career transitions told The Grindstone, "Mentoring is about a structured relationship. If you think you might have found someone who could be a good mentor for you, ask her explicitly if she will be your mentor. This crisply defines the relationship, which sets it up for success."
Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting in Washington DC spoke to Forbes about building a mentor relationship. She suggests women start by asking for advice, making the mentor-mentee relationship reciprocal in some way, and becoming a mentor yourself. "Even if you are at the bottom of your hierarchy at work, you can find mentees through alumni and non-profit networks" Jones says.
Everybody needs a cheerleader.