Women climbing the corporate ladder are often told to find a mentor to help them get ahead in the workplace. But how exactly does one do this?
For some insight, I spoke to Lois Zachary, author of The Mentor’s Guide. The book first came out 10 years ago, and her publisher, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, has just rereleased an updated edition. She told me:
“Because of our multitasking, time-crunched lives, we often reduce mentoring to transactions, but mentoring is really about a relationship. The mentee has to be an active participant in the process.”
Zachary said there are number of concrete steps to take in your search for a mentor.
“The purpose of mentoring is to learn, so women first need to ask themselves: what do I want to learn? Having a mentor is not about getting a promotion, it’s about becoming more promotable.”
Then, set goals. “Women get so locked into the ‘do’ that we forget about the ‘think’. I spend a lot of time with female entrepreneurs. They’re so busy working in the business that they forget to work ‘on’ the business,” she says, adding that men aren’t as susceptible to this behaviour. “Women are caretakers; it’s harder for us to let go.”
Based on your goals, create criteria for your ideal mentor. These can be points such as a sales track record of X, or the ability to meet with you face-to-face, or perhaps you are only looking for another woman as your mentor. Then, use your network to find possible candidates.
Beware of the allure of “good chemistry”, she says. “Chemistry is overrated. It’s seductive. If you click with someone, you might think, ‘They would be a great mentor,’ but they might not teach you what you need to learn.”
Zachary says the notion that powerful women are less willing to mentor young women is false. (Some female bosses have the reputation of being “queen bees” who distance themselves from other women at the office, and rather than promote junior counterparts, refuse to help them rise through the ranks. The incorrect presumption is that they think: “If I did it without any help, why can’t other women?”) Zachary adds:
“That’s probably a generational difference. I work with women’s groups all the time. I find that they are very supportive of one another. The women who are leaving the workforce now understand that it took blood, sweat, and tears for them to get there, and they want to leave the workforce a better place.”