What Meaningful Mentorship For Women Employees Should Look Like

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Mentoring benefits everyone involved, including mentor, mentee and the organization itself. In fact, several scientific studies show benefits in greater career advancement, lower turnover and more investment in the organization. Mentoring can be particularly important for populations that are underrepresented in the workplace, including women.

A recent study by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania looked at this Improving workplace culture through evidence-based practices for diversity, equal opportunities and inclusion. Stephanie Creary, Nancy Rothbard, and Jared Scruggs reviewed seven categories of DEI practices for quantifiable outcomes in DEI for organizations. Mentoring and sponsorship was one of the seven categories and was among the “most influential practices as they consistently drive many of the outcomes examined”.

As a female leader, I have had mentors and mentees for much of my career. These relationships have helped me grow personally and professionally. I don’t think I would be where I am today as a founder without the support of mentors along the way.

There are many helpful business relationships, so what makes mentors unique? Mentors are supporters of your career. They are usually long-term relationships, outlasting each individual position and often each company. There are certainly other professional relationships that women benefit from. However, mentoring is special and worth investing time in for the positive ROI it can have on one’s career.

Who is a good mentor?

The question of who is a good mentor is a very individual one. In general, mentors should have some level of experience related to your professional career. While this gap may change over the years, a mentor who can guide you most successfully in your career is one who has previously trod a similar path.

Often a mentor will be within the same organization. This type of mentoring can include some level of encouragement to your internal career and career path. That being said, women entrepreneurs and leaders may not benefit from an in-house mentor. In this case, it helps to find a mentor in a similar industry or with a common experience. For example, when I transitioned from Corporate America to starting my own business, I formed a new mentoring relationship with another entrepreneur who started her business 15 years ago.

A good mentor will offer you constructive criticism. While praise is nice, it doesn’t help you improve or grow professionally. Some of the most helpful feedback I’ve received has come from my mentors. One told me early on that as a petite woman who looks younger than her, sitting up straight and raising my voice in meetings is doubly important. While that previous sentence is full of references that might make an HR professional cringe, this was very helpful feedback. Being more aware of how I physically present myself in meetings has helped me build my leadership presence.

When looking for a mentor, people often look for someone of the same race and gender. However, many strong mentorships occur between people of different genders or races. Being able to try out someone else’s experience that is different from your own creates a learning curve for both the mentor and the mentee.

Interestingly, female leaders seem to be more convinced of the benefits of mentoring. According to McKinsey & Company Study “Women in the workplace”., “Men in senior management positions outnumber women 2 to 1 – but employees are equally likely to say that female and male leaders have supported their career development.” Apparently, women are more likely to act as mentors and are likely to recognize the great benefits that come from doing so. What are some of these benefits? From a DEI perspective, having the mentee share her experiences that is different from her own can offer the mentor a new perspective. Additionally, as mentees share their work and seek advice, this discussion helps the mentor stay abreast of current trends in their shared industry.

Related: The 6 most important characteristics to look for when choosing a mentor

Where can you find a mentor?

There are many programs to formally establish or request a mentor. Many large companies have formal mentoring programs. For women entrepreneurs, there are several organizations that will match you with a mentor, and often their services are free or inexpensive. Formal programs are most helpful when you are new to an organization or industry.

That being said, informal mentorships built over time can often be just as successful. At the beginning of my career, I was always afraid to ask for advice. I didn’t want to bother people and I didn’t want to appear like I didn’t know something I should know. Looking back, I realize I missed the benefit of a mentor early in my career. I’ve learned over the years not to be afraid to ask for support. If someone doesn’t have the skills to be a mentor, they will tell you. Otherwise, they are usually happy to help and also benefit from the relationship.

Related: How to Find the Right Mentor: Insights from an Immigrant Entrepreneur

How to make the most of your time together

How do you best use your time with a mentor? First, talk about what you hope to achieve from your time together. Mentor and mentee should share their backgrounds and career paths as well as career goals. This provides an opportunity to identify shared experiences and unique areas of expertise.

Next, commit to meeting regularly and establish a meeting schedule. Make the most of your time together by coming to the meeting well prepared. It is usually the mentee’s responsibility to come up with an issue you want feedback on or an issue you are struggling with. You can also discuss articles or books relevant to your industry. Not every meeting needs to have a set agenda, but you want to make sure it doesn’t just become a social connection. Your goal with your mentoring should be to learn from each other and advance the mentee’s career.

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Successful mentoring creates positive effects for the individual and the organization. Find a mentor who can support you in your career today and in the future. It’s worth investing the time it takes to make the most of the relationship. For female leaders, these relationships can help lift you out of career troughs and cheer you on during career highs.

Related: 3 core principles that I think everyone should look for in a boss or mentor

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