Finding the Right Mentor in the Workplace
The right workplace mentor can make or break your career. But what exactly is a mentor and how can you find one who’s a good fit for you and your professional goals?
A mentor is someone who offers you career support, advice, guidance and insights to help you succeed and thrive in the workplace. Mentors can also help you build your confidence, be a role model and act as a sounding board for ideas.
Traditionally, mentorships were thought to benefit mentees more than mentors. But researchers at the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, found that mentors can benefit as well. The center’s findings were published in a research report, "Mentorship, Sponsorship, and Networks: The Power and Value of Professional Connections.”
Professional networks are crucial to career success. Men, who are more likely to be senior or C-suite executives, typically tend to network predominantly with one another rather than with women. That leaves women at a disadvantage when finding mentors, so helping them do so can be especially valuable.
- The right mentor offers advice, guidance and insights to help their mentee succeed professionally.
- Research shows that despite popular beliefs, both mentees and mentors benefit from this relationship.
- There is a lot to consider when choosing a mentor, including their workplace, industry and experience.
How to Find a Mentor
The report offered these suggestions for women who want to find a mentor:
Look beyond existing relationships: While a mentor may be found in the workplace, you can also look to a service organization, community group or professional association as well.
Choose a mentor from a different industry or department: A little professional distance helps to minimize what the Bentley report characterized as a “subtle hierarchical pressure” of having a mentor who holds a senior position in your department.
Choose a mentor whose experience complements or supplements yours: Compatibility is important, but access to new skills, ideas and resources matters more.
Know what you want in a mentor: Having a specific vision of what you want from your mentorship can inspire your choice of mentor to say yes when you ask.
Should a woman choose a male mentor or a female mentor? The research findings are mixed. A female mentor might boost a female mentee’s sense of belonging, while a male mentor might be able to offer greater access to organizational resources and opportunities.
Women who mentor other women can share their experiences, provide affirmation, boost their mentee’s confidence and help to rally others in the company to support and cheer on the mentee. Having more than one mentor is always the best practice.
A study by LeanIn.org and management consulting firm McKinsey, Women in the Workplace 2017, stated that women of color “face the greatest obstacles and receive the least support” in the workplace. In fact, the report found, these women end up “under-served and left behind” even when companies declare their commitment to gender diversity. Mentoring these women or helping them find mentors could make a significant difference in their career success.
Find Your Mentor ASAP
Women should seek a mentor early in their career. Older women who haven’t reached a certain level of professional success consistently report lower rates of mentorship, according to Leaders & Daughters Global Survey 2017, an Egon Zehnder study of 7,000 women’s lives and careers in Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, the U.K. and the U.S.
“Fifty-five percent of women said they had a senior leader who acted as an advocate on their behalf,” the study stated. The proportion was higher for younger women, dropped off as the women aged and was highest for women with C-level corporate titles.
What to Look for in a Mentor
Understanding what the best mentors offer is a good first step toward finding one.
In a Harvard Business Review article, Anthony Tjan, CEO and managing partner at Cue Ball, a Boston based venture capital firm, outlined four things he believes the best mentors do for their mentees:
Prioritize the relationship rather than the mentorship: A successful mentorship requires rapport and common ground.
Focus more on character than competency: A mentorship should be more than a job skills training program. It also molds the mentee’s professional values and self-awareness.
Offer more encouragement, less criticism: A supportive mentor talks about the strengths of a mentee’s idea before delving into their weaknesses.
Be more loyal to the individual: Sometimes, the highest degree of loyalty means the mentor might need to steer a struggling mentee to a more suitable career path outside of the company.
Women who want to connect with a mentor can use these best practices in creating a vision for their ideal mentorship and broach the subject of mentorship with potential mentors.
Becoming a Mentor
Margie Warrell, an author, corporate speaker and career coach, suggests that women can step up to help other women even if they don’t feel ready to commit to a mentorship. In an article with Forbes, Warrell points out that women who aren’t yet at the top of their career already have a lot to offer women at an early stage.
With or without the formalities, women can pass along useful resources, refer potential clients, put one another’s names forward for more visible roles and connect one another to others who could be great mentors for them.