Rebecca Knight

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.”


Rebecca Knight

With the recent financial crisis helping to push board accountability into the spotlight, Lucy P. Marcus, professor of leadership and governance at IE Business School in Madrid, is urging companies to be more open to non-traditional candidates for their boards.

Rebecca Knight

Some say the best way to help a woman rise up the corporate ranks is to pair her with a seasoned mentor who will bestow his knowledge and share his hard-earned experience with her. But Beth Brooke, global vice-chairwoman of public policy at Ernst & Young, doesn’t buy it. 

Rebecca Knight

Alyse Nelson is the president and chief executive of Vital Voices, a Washington, DC-based group that trains female civic and business leaders in emerging economies.

Rebecca Knight

Most of us have seen the pop-art cartoon before, either on a refrigerator magnet or a T-shirt. It’s a Roy Lichtenstein spoof of a woman smacking her forehead and saying: “Oh my God! I forgot to have children!” A tear drips from one corner of her eye.

Rebecca Knight

In the Women at the Top blog, we dedicate a lot of electronic ink to the reasons for the lack of female representation in upper management and executive positions: a dearth of women role models, too few companies with family-friendly policies, straight-up discrimination – to name just a few. But one reason we’ve hardly touched on is the healthy male ego and the obstacle that it poses to women trying to get ahead. 

Rebecca Knight

In 1997, Julie Mahloch started GiftPoints, an e-commerce site that enabled shoppers to buy gift certificates at a time when they were only available for purchase in-store. The site – which turned into – had revenues of about $100m five years after its founding. 

Rebecca Knight

In a recent taped workshop, an executive at PwC, the professional services firm, shares that she’s uneasy revealing the brand-name organisations she’s advised for fear of “bragging”. Another says she’s hesitant to say the names of chief executives she’s worked with directly, lest it looks like she’s “name-dropping”.

Rebecca Knight

 Heather Rarick knew from an early age that space was in her future. As a young girl growing up in Mt. Lebanon, PA, she watched television footage of rocketships blasting to the moon and was hooked.

Rebecca Knight

Janice Reals Ellig, the co-chief executive of Chadick Ellig, the New York City-based executive search firm, has made it her life’s work to get more women on corporate boards.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.