The importance of mentors

May 15, 2013

In a recent newsletter I mentioned that I've never had a mentor (sniff), and asked people to tell me whether they'd had good experiences of mentorship. The more I read, the more importance mentorship seems to acquire in terms of our ability to have a successful career. And mentorship for women gets special attention, because traditionally women have been less likely than men to be able to find a mentor in the first place. I heard from a few people in response to that newsletter and am including some of what they said below. Everyone who wrote was writing from the perspective of being a mentee rather than a mentor, and they were very glad they'd had the chance to be mentored. I recently wrote a short piece on how to find a mentor for Metro, which came out earlier this week. Some of what I wrote was cut for space, and that missing stuff dealt with recommendations such as, as the mentee, not to expect the relationship to be all one-way (i.e. don't just suck everything up without giving anything back), and another tip from Sheryl Sandberg, which I thought was sensible: don't ask a mentor questions you could find the answers to online. I guess Sandberg herself gets asked a lot of repetitive questions. I can pretty much guarantee that Mrs. Moneypenny, who features in the latest show, would concur with that no-nonsense advice. For more on how to set up the mentor/mentee relationship so that it's effective, here are some tips from Careerstone Group.

And here are a couple of responses from listeners:

"I got involved heavily in Missouri state politics when I ran for office in 2010 and have been able to move up fairly quickly in the field ever since. I would not have been able to do it without many helpful mentors along the way. For me, it hasn't been just one person. Instead, it has been multiple individuals who I have come into contact with that have helped me learn new methods and have recommended me for higher positions. I could never have done it without them, on top of, of course, putting in a lot of hard work on my own in learning the field."

That speaks to something Tiffany Dufu of Levo League told me during our interview for Metro - that women need multiple mentors, partly because there may not be one person at work who fits the bill, so you have to look outside, and to have male and female mentors. You could easily argue the same for a man, but in general each sex sees their ideal mentor as someone of their own gender (and I suspect this is especially true for men). It's a lot harder for women to find female mentors than it is for men to find male ones, simply because there are fewer senior women to tap.

Here's a listener and friend of mine who works in a male-dominated industry - construction:

"Reading this reminded me of a female mentor I had at my first architecture job after grad school, and it's *also* reminded me that without her I doubt I would ever have been interested in going into construction...while I'm proud of being a female in construction, and I'd like to think that I got to this point because of talent and skill, I can't forget that a lot of my strength and faith that I could do something like this probably came from seeing this woman do it back in New Jersey ten years ago, very much in a man's world."

All of which sounds pretty inspiring. I must get to work on finding one myself.