Earlier this week, Laura Petrolino wrote an important article about women and mentorship.
It was inspiring to see some women have been lucky in their careers, but also not surprising that the majority have not.
And some of the statistics she poses are astounding (I mean, more men named John in leadership positions than women…come on!).
It also made me sad to read, in the #MeToo era, men are scared to be mentors to women.
That is not OK!
It’s more important today than ever that we work together—all humans for one goal.
But as equally important as men serving as mentors to women is women serving as mentors to women.
If we can’t—and don’t—support one another, how can we expect anyone else to do it?
The Definition of Feminism
Back in the early days of my career, I was invited to sit on the youth advisory board of a nationally-recognized women’s organization.
The first meeting, I was all excited and ready to advance feminism and bring equality to all humans.
I showed up to their Chicago headquarters, notebook in hand with research I’d done ahead of time and a list of questions I was going to ask to help me prepare to get out there and make a difference.
Except…I didn’t get a chance to ask a single question. In fact, that’s not what the meeting was about. They spent 45 minutes of the hour meeting bashing men.
I remember thinking:
But I love men. I have four brothers. Men have helped me every step of the way. Why do we want to do this without them?
I lasted three more meetings before I had to resign from the board. I couldn’t take it!
After all, true feminism is about equality for both genders—and a level playing field that respects the voices of women.
It’s not about shutting out a group of humans or finding ways to take them down.
If you are committed to advancing equality and making a real difference, one the best approaches you can take, as Laura’s article describes, is to find yourself a mentor.
(And, if you’re in a position in your career to be able to mentor someone, please make the time to do it. Giving back to our industry is one of the most important things you can do.)
Let’s talk about how to do that.
How to Find a Mentor
If you find yourself needing a mentor, there is a way to go about it.
You don’t have to be young in your career to have a mentor. You could do reverse mentoring, where a young professional teaches you something about the online world that you don’t know. Or perhaps you need more financial sense.
Whatever it happens to be, don’t limit your thinking to only young professionals having mentors.
Here is a four-step process to find yourself a mentor.
- Find someone you respect or want to be like when you grow up. If you’re in the marketing or communications world and you’re not already a member of the Spin Sucks community, I would start there (if you don’t already have someone in mind). Pay attention to what people are posting and the conversations that are being had. I can pretty much guarantee you will find someone there who seems to be your bosom buddy.
- Study the person. Look the person up online and stalk them a bit. Read their content, watch their videos, listen to their podcasts, pay attention to what they post on social media.
- Ask for a meeting. Use what you learn by studying the person and ask for a meeting. But don’t ask them to be your mentor in the first meeting. This is just a “get to know you” meeting. It can be in person or on video chat. Get to know one another.
- Let the relationship evolve naturally. If you are meant to be, the relationship will naturally evolve and then you can ask the person to be your mentor.
Once the person agrees to be your mentor, you have some work to do to be a great mentee.
How to Be a Great Mentee
Remember, you are asking them to help you so you should make their life as easy as possible.
Respect their time and have healthy boundaries. Don’t begin by demanding things or say you’re available only one day a week for a two-hour block of time.
(This has actually happened!)
Your job is to make their lives easy and to do the work they recommend you do. Be very coachable and ready to learn.
- Be respectful of their time. The very best mentor relationship will be one you are prepared to take advantage of. Show up for your meetings on time and with an agenda. Be ready to ask questions and get the most out of your time together. Do not show up without an agenda or use the time to vent. That helps neither one of you.
- Your learning is your responsibility, not theirs. If your mentor suggests you do something, do it! They can teach you to fish, but if you don’t actually fish, you’ll starve!
- Provide feedback. Be open about the things you are being asked to do, and your comfort level with them. If your mentor is doing an exceptional job, show your gratitude! If you need help in certain aspects, let them know.
- Stay focused. In addition to having an agenda for every call, you should have agreed-upon goals to extend during your relationship (typically a year). During every meeting or call, you should discuss your goals, where you are against them, and be willing to have your butt kicked if you’re not reaching or exceeding them. Let your mentor hold you accountable…and stay accountable.
- Have fun! This is a relationship that you will likely have your entire life. So you will develop trust and a personal relationship with your mentor. That means you can have a little fun. It doesn’t have to be all business, all the time.
And, if you’re the one being asked to be the mentor (or you want to find a mentee), there are things you can do to make the relationship grand, as well.
How to Be a Great Mentor
- Establish expectations. If you expect your mentee to show up to each meeting with an agenda, tell them so. Tell them what your commitment level is—one meeting a month, plus texts and emails or one meeting a month and no other contact or all the phone calls you want, as long as they’re quick questions. Whatever works for you, works for them.
- Set goals. In your first meeting, you should do a needs assessment and set goals. Ask your mentee what they would like to get out of the relationship. And then work with them to set goals for which you will hold them accountable.
- Practice listening. Really listen. Don’t listen to respond. Listen, ask questions, and help guide them to answers. Of course, you can offer advice or lead them in a new direction, but you should not be providing them the answers. Which leads me to…
- “What do you think?” We ask this question internally all the time. It forces people to come to their managers with solutions versus the problem. If they have a problem or challenge, they know we are going to ask, “What do you think?” So they come prepared to answer that question. This is one of the best gifts you can give your mentee. The value in letting them think.
- Help them network. Almost always, part of the reason you have been asked to mentor someone is because you have a vast network. Assuming the mentee is someone you would absolutely recommend, help them meet new people. Treat them as you would your children and ask your friends to consider your mentee.
Together We Can Gain Equality
In the past several years, I have had the incredible opportunity to mentor many communications professionals.
I typically have four mentees at one time and I get as much from them (maybe even more) as they get from me.
I’ve seen mentees get married, have babies, change jobs, become executives at large companies, sell businesses, and more.
I even had a mentee who went through business bankruptcy. And, while I hated every minute of it for him, I learned so much about how that all works. I learned that, as it turns out, bankruptcy is not the end of the world.
I never would have learned that if not for that relationship.
So, as we near International Women’s Day, think about how you can either serve as a mentor or become a mentee.
There is only one way to gain true equality…and that’s to work together to do it.
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash