Let’s start by taking a little timehop back to our grandmothers’ generation. Think about what life was like for them as women — especially when it comes to life in the business world. Once you’ve captured that image, I’d like you to fast-forward to the present, to your own lives. A bit different, right? Yes, over the last 100 or so years we’ve made leaps and bounds in terms of the disparity between the sexes in the workplace.
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That said, the unfortunate truth is that suffrage has only moved the needle so far. Regardless of the progress that has been made, far too many women still struggle to overcome the hurdles of equality in the workplace. Whether it is pay, benefits, or general poor treatment, many of the hard-working professional women I speak with find themselves feeling alone in our male-dominated culture. That said, before you jump to another article, this isn’t going to be another, “You deserve better!” piece; rather I’d like to focus your attention on the topic of mentors.
Call them by any name you like: coach, instructor, teacher, or sage. The fact is that having a great female mentor can be the catalyst that will help you go farther than you ever thought possible in your career. Additionally, if you’ve risen to the top, you have the opportunity to take your know-how and help another to rise above the glass ceiling. Here are some tips to help you find that perfect, strong female mentor — and how to become one yourself.
- Make the Time! Of all the things that you do for your career, making yourself available to be either the mentor or the mentee is one of the most valuable. We’re all busy, but consider carving out a simple 60 minutes each month to devote to your mentorship. Yes, more time would be even better, but in today’s hectic world of deadlines, soccer games, and the like, 60 minutes out of a possible 43,200 is a mere drop in the bucket … and realistic!
- Lower the Shield. From a young age, we’re taught to be on the defensive — I’ll surmise that this dates back to the days of the nomads. You should feel vulnerable and open — it’s how we grow as leaders and how we best share our most cherished secrets and tricks of the trade. As the mentee, be prepared for feedback that may be more honest than what you’re accustomed to; as a mentor, don’t hold back. This is a time when you should be looking past feelings and focus on growing talent and skillsets.
- Agendas Are a Must. Yes, having a lunch is a great way to meet with the person whom you’ve selected to invest in your future, but a rambling gossip session won’t get you where you ultimately want to go. For this ask, I find the onus is really on the person receiving the mentoring. That said, mentors should also desire to cover clear, specific topics within each meeting. Consider a quick recap of where the last meeting left off (think five minutes or so) and then dive in. Remember, we’re only talking about an hour.
Now, as promised, here is my basic roadmap for those seeking a mentor. It’s a simple two-part act that I’ve found to be very useful and effective.
1. If not you, then who? Who comes to mind when you think of those women you most admire? In my early days, I envisioned several women who I both respected and dreamed of emulating. If you’d love to wear someone else’s shoes, chances are that they should make your short list.
2. Just do it! No swoosh here, however Nike got it right with this tag line. If you don’t ask, chances are that it will never happen. While I do find great value with in-person asks, don’t put someone on the spot. To begin, I suggest writing them an introductory letter explaining why you would love them to be your mentor and then give them a timeline — I think two weeks is the sweet spot. Something to the effect of, “I know this is a big ask and that your time is valuable. I’d like to provide you with two weeks to consider my request. If you think I’d be a good fit, we can discuss the relationship over coffee during XXX week.” This provides an out if they’re not comfortable — and in the end, it’s to your benefit that they are passionate about the experience.
No matter how powerful we are — and ladies, we are powerful beings — the truth is that we can all benefit from additional support. As a bearer of two X chromosomes myself, I too can vouch for the fact that it can be difficult and at times lonely in the workforce. Finding a great coach or mentor to help push you through the hard times and challenge you when you think you’re at the apex can be a great bolster to your career.
Additionally, if you’re looking down from the top, or even somewhere in between, consider sharing your insights! As Maya Angelou said, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
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Michelle Kruse has more than 10 years of hiring and recruiting experience and a background in coaching and leadership development. At?ResumeEdge, Michelle recruits and hires résumé writers, provides training and ongoing support, manages strategic partnerships, and serves as a subject matter expert on the job search process.