It's undeniable that the right mentor will greatly improve a woman's job prospects, particularly in technology. But it is difficult to find a mentor, let alone to find the right one. Part of the problem is that many women don't think to seek out a mentor. The second is that potential mentors don't realize the responsibility they have to other women. In order to move forward in our own endeavors, we face an obligation to offer mentorship.
Mentoring is Good for Our Careers - From Both Sides
The act of mentoring doesn't just benefit the person getting advice. A woman who mentors other professionals may gain more than just feelings of altruism. In a study of formal mentoring programs, mentors reported that their experiences directly helped them in their own careers: "It has changed the way that I interact with my staff. I've passed on advice that I've given my mentee to my own staff," noted one mentor. Another mentor said, "It's given me a better understanding of the types of problems and issues faced by younger people in the organization, including some of my direct reports who are not very good at verbalizing certain types of issues." Other benefits include:
- She expands her network to people who are obviously interested in moving forward in their own careers.
- She builds social capital with both the people she mentors and the people she connects her mentees to.
- She improves her ability to talk about her areas of expertise through discussions with her mentees.
- She acquires experience working with individuals who may need training or other guidance.
Reverse mentorship is something that companies have to consider quite seriously. In a new digital world, the younger generation of "digital natives" have a lot to teach us. While more mature senior executives can offer their insight on career advancement, they themselves can benefit highly from the digital and social training that millenials can offer. It is absolutely reasonable for a mentor to expect to benefit from helping someone, provided that both parties' interests align.
An example of a brand that offers a program like this is Cisco. They have a reverse mentoring program that the corporate social media marketing team has including in their overall social media training and certification program. It reaches across the company, pairing the right mentors and mentees whose mutual interests align.
If you need something specific for your own career to keep progressing, consider whether mentoring can provide it for you.
Making the Effort to Mentor
Just as women can't wait for a mentor to find them, waiting to be asked isn't an effective way to become a mentor. It's necessary to seek out mentorship opportunities. You have to set aside time in your schedule to be an effective mentor, as well as to find someone to work with.
Many organizations outside of your own company pair mentors and mentees; you can begin mentoring just by connecting with such an organization in your area. SCORE, in particular, makes it easy to mentor: You can volunteer through an online form and be paired with a mentee who wishes to meet by phone or online. You don't ever need to step out of your office.
If you want to get the full benefits of mentoring, however, it's important to go a step beyond those basic interactions. You may have particular types of people you want to mentor -- especially if you know you'll have a need in your business or your network in the near future. Stepping outside of the constraints of a formal mentoring program can also help you to be a more effective mentor.
There are a variety of formats that mentoring can take, from casual discussions to set training. Some individuals have found that the mentoring approaches that have worked for male leaders in their organizations are less effective at helping women. WOMEN Unlimited has pioneered different approaches, including peer mentoring and specific workshops, which put an emphasis on working with women who are on a closer level to you than traditional mentoring would offer. It's a question of finding what works for you and then fulfilling your commitment to mentoring.
There are a variety of mentorship opportunities out there these days, some of which don't even require you to step away from your desk. There is nothing preventing you from gaining the benefits of being a mentor, so it's time to start thinking about the women you want to mentor and how best to help them.
Follow Ekaterina Walter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ekaterina