The first mentor was actually female, and no less than the Goddess Athena herself, in the guise of Mentor, a character from the tale of Odysseus. Odysseus, returning from the Trojan Wars found that his old friend Mentor had supported his son Telemachus, during his long absence.
In the 1920’s, New York’s Big Brothers/Big Sisters democratize mentoring, which soon became a pillar of the corporate culture. Early on, the most recognizable organizations in the world saw mentorship as a competitive advantage, a great way to accelerate the development of future leaders.
The importance of mentors cannot be overstated. A good mentor inspires you, stretches you, connects you, and opens your mind. Mentoring provides a safe space to learn, experiment, ask questions — any questions, regardless how seemingly stupid they may be — and offers a vital sounding board. In the corporate world, mentoring increases knowledge retention and employees’ engagement.
Mentoring is to care and lift you up!
Not sure if you have what it takes to be a mentor?
In the words of Maya Angelou: “You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what the chemical makeup of chemistry is, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.”
In short, there is very little you can do to do a bad job! Here is a simple list of Don’ts
– Be the decision-maker
– Tell right vs. wrong
– Do the work
– Tell them what to do
As a mentor, your job is to ask the right questions to expand your mentee’s awareness and help them decide for themselves — which in turn expands your own awareness…
With so many benefits for both mentees and mentors, why aren’t more women engaging in mentoring relationships?
For the mentees:
“It’s awkward to connect with strangers”
“I don’t know how to approach a mentor”
How to find a mentor?
Step One: Ask.
Be vulnerable, put yourself out there and ask. With that being said, you aren’t asking someone on a first date. You don’t need to find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with because over your career you most likely will have multiple mentors in multiple areas of focus. But you do need to ask. Don’t ask though “do you want to be my mentor”. It should be less formal. For example, you may approach a potential mentor saying that you’d welcome the opportunity to connect and ask a few questions related to their area of expertise, briefly stating why it’s of interest to you.
Step Two: If accepted, come prepared.
You should know in advance what you want to talk about, what questions you have, and what you need advice on. This is not a meeting that will be filled with small-talk.
Step Three: Treat your mentor’s time as valuable. Make it a benefit for the mentor too.
Buy the coffee, choose a location that is convenient for your mentor, not you, arrive early, and again, be prepared. After the meeting, send a thank you and let your mentor know you appreciated their time and even how you benefited from the meeting.
Step Four: Seek mentorship out in new areas.
Not all mentors will be a senior in your position. Do not limit your mentorship. Expand your horizon by seeking mentors who have experience in business operations, leadership, strategic vision, public speaking, networking, etc.
Step Five: Build trust.
Keep commitments agreed to with your mentor. Treat it as a workplace relationship. Act professionally do not treat your time with your mentor as a venting session.
Be open to receiving feedback and coaching. View it as a gift.
Take responsibility for your own professional growth and development.
Seek challenging assignments and new responsibilities.
Keep commitments agreed to with your mentor.
Renegotiate the mentoring relationship when your personal and professional needs change.
For the mentors:
“I’m afraid to be rejected”
“I’m no expert”
Survey says that most women have only been asked to be a mentor a few times their career, while 20% reported they have never been asked to be a mentor. However, 71% of women surveyed state they would accept invitations to be formal mentors. 54% of women surveyed said they questioned whether they had enough expertise before agreeing to mentor.
How to become a mentor?
Step One: Find a mentee to mentor.
If you would like to be a mentor you do not need to wait to be asked. You have the power to share your knowledge and experience. Find an individual within the organization and offer your support.
Step Two: Say yes when asked.
Say yes, when you are asked to coffee or lunch by someone you do not know. Put yourself out there.
Step Three: Do not rush the meeting and come with an open mind.
Your mentee may be nervous. Show up and make time. Do not state immediately, you are having a busy day and need to run back to work. Treat the time as a one-on-one opportunity.
Step Four: Show gratitude.
Understand your mentee is out of their comfort zone and are most likely nervous. The mentee is, after all, trying to impress you and convince you to continue to share your expertise. Applaud their efforts and thank them for reaching out.
Step Five: Be supportive. Be direct. Invest in your mentee.
Continue to think about your mentees. Be supportive and share opportunities or advice that comes across your day.
“My first manager would share every lunch and learn conference, or HR article that she read. This was a simple act of forwarding an email, but it meant the world to me and helped me with my career” said Beth.
Be direct. If you have feedback, give it. Do not sugar coat feedback. With the limited time you spend with your mentee, it is quality over quantity. Make sure your point or advice is direct, even if it is providing constructive criticism.
Step Six: Offer solutions.
Offer solutions even if it is recommending someone else. Perhaps you do not have the time, or you do not have the expertise in a system, recommend someone else and initiate the relationship.
Step Seven: Sponsor
If you believe in your mentee, sponsor them. Recommend them for societies, available positions, conferences etc.
Encourage the exploration of ideas and risk-taking in learning.
Provide appropriate and timely advice.
Serve as a confidant for work-related issues.
Help mentee to shift his/her mental context.
Suggest appropriate skills training.
Serve as a source of information and resources.
In conclusion, STOP, START, and CONTINUE:
STOP waiting for mentorship to be assigned.
START reaching out.
CONTINUE accepting invitations.
Girls in Tech Phoenix’s female first mentoring platform is a free resource to the community, individuals and corporation alike. Request access now, as an individual or a company.
Carine Dieudé is the Chair of the Mentorship Committee and on the Board of Directors for Girls in Tech — Phoenix. Partner & Director of Strategy at Altima Business Solutions — On-Demand Executives, On-Demand Solutions for the fundamental of business: Capital, Profit, Critical Path, Sales and Advisors
Beth Schaefer is the Human Resources Manager at Trapp Technology — The very best cloud, VoIP, and IT managed services to provide a true all-in-one IT solution for businesses who seek to cut IT costs and leverage technology to grow revenues.