Mentorship: A Boon for Enterprising Women

Who is a Mentor?

Who comes to your mind when you think of the word mentor? Someone older, who has a lot of experience, a favorite teacher from high school, maybe. After all, the word mentor refers to a knowledgeable advisor who can play a key role in your life and career.

Our first mentors are usually our parents, grandparents and other family members. A good support system within the family can build a strong foundation, to help shape your character and outlook on life. The next set of mentors includes teachers, who play an essential role in our intellectual and psychological development. Good teachers are not only experts in their subjects but they have a knack for incorporating life lessons into everyday interactions.

Mentors are qualified professionals who advise, encourage and guide you through various phases of your career and life. Their work involves a lot more than cheering; they provide useful critique that can help you understand your strengths and work on your weak points. Be assured that your mentor will be behind your every success and pitfall. So once you find the right mentor, enjoy the time spent with this person, absorb the information they have to offer and move forward positively. Remember, behind most successful people are one or more influential mentors guiding and supporting them even after they reach great heights.

Mentoring is common in the corporate world, but there is a vast disparity between the number of men and women who have mentors. This disproportion is directly related to the gender inequality in executive positions. The typical trend in mentorship is that a mentee picks a mentor either from the company where he or she works or finds someone from the same field. When it comes to women, it’s difficult to find experienced, top-tier professional female mentors and this is where the problem starts.

Echoing this troubling thought is Women and Mentoring in the U.S., a 2011 study conducted by LinkedIn, which shows that 82 percent of 1000 professional women from around the country consider mentorship important but only 19 percent have had a mentor in their lives. This percentage varies between women of different age groups with 51 percent of millennials having been mentored, 43 percent of Generation X and 34 percent of baby boomers. One of the major reasons for this gap is the fact that the baby boomer generation did not have as many women in top level positions as the other generations. Even though the situation is better now, the number of women with executive designations is still not where it should be.

Advantages of Having a Mentor

A study, Network Intervention: Assessing the Effects of Formal Mentoring on Workplace Networks, published in February 2015 depicts the results of research done with 139 aspiring employees at an American software company based in China. The study reveals that “women gained more social capital from affiliation with a high-status mentor than their male counterparts.”

The researchers also interviewed past participants from a formal mentoring program in Beijing to learn how mentorship programs helped bring about “access to organizational elites, participation in semiformal foci, enhanced social skills, and legitimacy-enhancing signals.” Sameer Srivastava, an assistant professor at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and lead researcher on the report, states that “formal mentoring can expand professional networks in a variety of ways for women, by building social skills and providing access to the elite members of an organization.” The study found that women who went through formal mentoring programs saw a marked increase in visibility and validity, making them more eligible networking partners for their colleagues.

“Mentoring is essential to gaining the support, encouragement and commitment to achieve. The mentee receives advice and counsel as well as a support system and it is actually a two-way street – the mentors benefit as much as the mentees. The opportunity to build careers through mentoring, sponsorship and internships really increase the likelihood of pure success and happiness,” states Edie Fraser, CEO of STEMconnector/Million Women Mentors.

A Mentor Can:

  • Give a mentee a new outlook towards his/her career, especially if they are from the same field.
  • Help their protégées set life and career goals.
  • Provide recommendations, suggest new projects, internships or even new positions.
  • Identify the mentee’s strengths and weaknesses.

Because it is difficult to find women mentors, the best place to start looking is the company where you work. If you are an entrepreneur planning to start a business, you’ll have to start at company events. Keep an eye out for special women-only conferences too as these could get you closer to a possible candidate. Once you find someone you feel a connection with, do not hesitate to make an introduction and exchange contact information.

Take some time to get to know the person, and if they seem like the right fit ask them boldly if they would like to mentor you. If you are unable to find potential mentors at events, the next best bet would be professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Should a woman look only for a woman mentor? It isn’t essential but there are advantages to finding a woman mentor. A woman with years of experience will have a clear idea of what women have to navigate when working in a male-dominant field and can advise you accordingly.

It is encouraging to see women in leading positions, successfully balancing their personal and professional lives; this gives up and coming women the belief that they can do it all too. Male mentors, on the other hand, can help you understand nuances of the business world that they have seen over the years. Multiple inputs, from men and women, will give you an overall picture of what to expect and help you prepare for the best and worst situations.

Guidelines for a Successful Mentor-Mentee Program

  1. Have a clear idea of what you want from the relationship and work on having the goals addressed.
  2. Set small, achievable goals so that there are lesser chances of failure and disappointment.
  3. Be organized and systematic, so that the meetings occur regularly and the pair can consistently keep track of developments.

January is National Mentoring Month; endorsed by former President George W. Bush, this campaign was inaugurated in 2002 and is propelled by the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Numerous governors and mayors participate in this campaign and designated nonprofits and government organizations take responsibility for local activities. National Mentoring Month features a Thank Your Mentor Day when people thank their mentors or make donations to mentorship programs. Some people also post anecdotes and tributes to

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has a Graduate Women Mentoring Women program aimed at supporting women graduate students as they tackle academics, career and life. The highlights of this program are the “academic and professional development workshops, discussions and social and networking opportunities.” A coffee stipend and other materials are provided to make it more interesting for both parties.

Million Women Mentors (MWM) supports “one million men and women of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to help engage more girls and women and to peak their interest in STEM programs and careers. MWM is a collaboration of more than 60 partners (reaching over 30 million girls and women), 45 sponsors, and 34 state leadership teams.” NAWRB is doing our part for female entrepreneurs and champions the idea that effective mentoring can help women break barriers and make proud strides towards success.

Famous Mentor-Mentee Pairs

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson mentored Henry David Thoreau
  2. Socrates mentored Plato
  3. Mahatma Gandhi mentored Nelson Mandela
  4. Ingmar Bergman mentored Woody Allen
  5. Robert Friedland mentored Steve jobs
  6. Mrs. Duncan (4th grade teacher) mentored Oprah Winfrey
  7. Rev. Donald James mentored Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
  8. Alice L. White (headmistress) mentored Rosa Parks

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