Women's Leadership

Mentorship-Are We Doing it Right?

Andrea Derby - Wednesday, July 19, 2017

This morning I attended a breakfast hosted by Women on the Rise: An Initiative of the Commons on Champa. It was an inspiring event featuring an interview with Virginia Santy McCarver. The topic was mentorship for women and Virginia asked, and then answered, “Are We Doing it Right? I wanted to share the insights, and really, advice that I gleaned from Virginia and the group discussion.

Firstly, mentorship is extremely important for women, more so than men. That’s because women have more mine fields to navigate in terms of overt and covert biases that exist – when it comes to the corporate world as well as owning your own business.
Virginia first explained what mentorship is not. A mentor is not a role model, a supporter/cheerleader, a sounding board or a current manager or boss. These people do serve important roles in your development, but a true mentor is different than any of these.
A true, productive and constructive, mentor-mentee relationship is reciprocal. Men understand this concept well and are more adept at leveraging mentor-mentee relationships in a strategic way. Women have a tendency to view mentorship as one sided. As though it’s the mentors job to give selflessly with advice, guidance and opportunities. What an overwhelming concept! Women already give so much in other areas of their life so this type of mentorship is unsustainable. Women need to realize that mentorship goes two ways, the mentor and the mentee invest in each other with a lot of time and energy. That’s why it’s important for each side to define what they want from the arrangement.
As a mentee, you need to have a clear idea of the goals you have and how a mentor can assist you. In addition, you have to define and communicate what you are bringing to the table for the mentor. How can you help your mentor? Mentors need to set clear expectations and understand that mentees are an extension of the mentor. They asked you to be a mentor based on expertise and as you share that with them, they essentially take your personal brand into the world to be applied.
Asking someone to be a mentor is a big ask. Make sure you know what you are looking for and get to know your possible mentor first, before asking. Virginia said, “date your mentor”. I think that’s great advice, because this a very important relationship and you need to get it right. Time is everyone’s most valuable commodity and it’s vital that both the mentor and the mentee are spending their’s wisely. Be strategic, be transactional, and be a mercenary with your time and your mentorship relationship.
A few of the tips that member audience gave were:
•A mentor helps you take the blinders off, see things around you that you are missing
•Mentors can be younger than the mentee, but those folks have to aspirational and probably have a specific skill set that you are looking to learn more
•Mentors should set expectations for engagement – when and how for meetings, preparation, etc.
•Mentorships don’t always have to be formal. Relationships can come about organically, that are essentially mentorships. But keep in mind that they still need to be reciprocal to be effective.
•In a mentor-mentee relationship, do your homework. Before you ask someone to be your mentor, before you agree to be a mentor, before each and every meeting – do your homework.
My thanks to Virginia Santy McCarver, Women on the Rise, Kyle Dyer and all the great women who attended!

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