January is National Mentorship Month in the USA. So, let’s salute all the mentors and mentees out there. But we may find there are less business duos that we think. If mentorship is a proven career accelerator, why do so few women have mentors?
A LinkedIN poll of over 1000 US women confirmed that 82% found mentorship to be critical to career success. Despite this belief, 1 in 5 women have NEVER had a mentor. And it’s having an impact on the number of women in boardrooms.
In fact, fewer women run big companies than men named John. So what’s holding women back from developing mentorship relationships?
The Challenge for Mentors: Time.
Often women who feel they are in a senior role to mentor others are also trying to balance their careers and family life. The lack of time to meet in person monthly or offer consistent feedback to emails and calls leads them to de-prioritize mentoring.
Give yourself permission to design the mentoring relationship so that it compliments your life. Strict mentoring structures can be old-school and in desperate need of an update to accommodate for modern life and the advancement of technology. In the first meeting with any potential mentee, test the fit. Chemistry is key for a mentorship relationship having longevity. Next, talk openly about what you each want the communication- frequency and methods- to look like. Perhaps you meet in person quarterly for lunch and have monthly calls at 8am on the drive to work. Perhaps you Skype every two months and allow for email communication in between. Set expectations together, thereby empowering the relationship instead of making it feel like an obligation.
The Challenge for Mentees: Courageous Requests.
A mentor is not going to knock on your door to say “ Hey, you seem like a rising star. Can I mentor you?” In fact, 67% of women who have never been a mentor said its because they have never been asked. It can feel lonely up on the corporate ladder with no one to talk to so recognize that asking is the first step of engagement.
One of the crucial elements of a successful mentoring relationship is choosing the right mentor for you and having the courage to ask for what you want. Document the criteria that is important for your mentor to have then reach out to your network to see if any warm introductions can be made. A referral can open up the door to a potential mentor, so ask around. If coming out and saying “ will you be my mentor?” feels inauthentic and cheesy. It usually is. While asking is important, there are other ways to articulate the ASK. Ensure you offer value first. Mentors are senior leaders with limited extra time and energy so clearly define what’s in it for them. Will you commit to taking action on their advice? Will you promise to pay it forward? Will you take the time to hear about their challenges and offer your assistance? Mentorship is often designed to feel one way but has mutual benefit if you are determined to offer value up.
Knowing the impact of mentoring is one thing. Taking action to create mentoring is another. In tribute to national mentoring month and the start of a new year of potential, why not commit to taking action?
Seek and find a mentor/mentee partner and mark next January as a celebratory milestone.