Why mentorship matters for women

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By: Anja Uitdehaag

For many women working long hours or trying to combine work with family life, it is easy to concentrate on the day- to-day issues of life and forget the larger picture – where they are heading. Having a mentor is a chance to think about longer-term objectives.

Throughout my career multiple mentors and sponsors took part in my continuous development and growth, both males and females. They supported me when I needed a new approach or new level of thought. They helped me to build my self-confidence and leadership at moments when I felt that I did not have the right skills for a particular role or situation and they brought in unique experiences that added to my understanding of how to play the game of business.

Some of the challenges women encounter in the workplace don’t necessarily come from their working environments, but rather from within.

Women quite often have doubts about their capabilities.

Men feel positive about being able to do the job until they are told they can’t.

Women start with thinking they cannot do it, (and continue to think so) until they are told they are doing a good job.

Women don’t toot their own horn as much as men.

Girls are often raised to believe that it’s not polite to speak about your-self.

So many women wait to be recognized and then are frustrated when they aren’t.

With the guidance of a trusted mentor, women can learn to overcome the internal and external factors that hold them back, and go on to successfully grow in their careers.

With regards to equality, women profit from mentoring in the following ways:

  • Learning by example: Being mentored by a successful woman or a successful man, increases one’s own self-confidence, know-how can be gained as well as firsthand information that isn’t publicly available and one’s own competencies can be expanded;
  • Access to a network: By gaining access to the mentor’s network, new alternatives and career opportunities surface. A mentor can open doors and make contacts that advance their mentee’s career goals, which might otherwise be unattainable;
  • Visibility: The mentee not only becomes visible to the mentor and her/his network, it also works the other way around: mentees gain insight into which people and companies are open to them and actively want to promote women. They are shown which paths they can pursue to achieve their career goals or find their way back into professional life. This leads to a greater transparency of the market and thus to better access to career opportunities for women.

One of the most basic questions in the mentor-selection process is whether to be mentored by a man or a woman. When it comes to mentoring women, should the gender of mentor candidates be a consideration? The answer is not straightforward. While some experts and execs believe male mentors can offer the best resources to women, others feel that female mentors can offer better understanding of specific issues that mentees need to know. Still others feel that gender should not be a deciding factor for mentorship.

The bottom line?

Think about your goals for a mentoring relationship. If your company’s management structure is male-dominated and you need access to the “boy’s club,” a male mentor might make more sense, at least initially. But if you’re hoping to be advised by someone who has gone before you in your shoes and experienced similar challenges firsthand, you might prefer a female mentor.

Take time to think about whom you would like to have as a mentor since the choice of person has a big impact on the relationship and ultimately your success. The person needs to be willing to share knowledge, be open and honest with you and be trustworthy. You need to feel safe to share personally sensitive information with him/her.

Choose someone who is more experienced in your field, someone who you respect professionally, find inspiring and look forward to spending time with.

He/she should energize you.

If you are a woman who wants more support or a mentor, don’t be shy: reach out to someone you know and ask for some of their time. Even if they decline, it will be good practice as you build your career.

As a potential mentor, go ahead and take the first step. Reach out to a talented woman you met at a conference or meet-up or whose work you saw online and learn more about her. Find out if you can be of any assistance to her.

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