The research shows that women are less likely to receive mentorship from men, even if they are equally talented. Receiving mentorship has been linked to increased work outcomes, like better opportunities for advancement, greater developmental opportunities, and increased salary. Thus, if women are getting fewer mentors than men at work, the lack of mentorship for women may be driving gender inequality at work. Specifically, women may be less likely to be promoted to executive levels, hold Board seats, or to make the same salary as their male counterparts. However, it can be difficult to find a good mentor. In the absence of a formal mentoring program, women may have to proactively ask for mentorship instead of expecting to be mentored (as is more likely to be men’s experience). But, how do you find a good mentor?
Research suggests that there are some key things to look for when attempting to identify a good mentor. First, whoever you choose should be well-connected within the organization. Without the ability to link you with powerful individuals at work, the mentor’s impact is limited. Second, and relatedly, the mentor should be willing to introduce you to individuals who would be helpful for you to know across the organization. Take note of anyone who has made these connections for you before – would they be willing to serve as a formal mentor for you? If this hasn’t happened yet, ask this question (in a tactful way) when approaching someone about mentorship. Try something like “I know that you have so many wonderful connections across the organization. I would love to learn from their experience. Do you think that you might be willing to introduce me to some folks who would be willing to talk with me about their careers?”. Third, a mentor is willing to spend time talking with you about your goals, as well as their perceptions of your strengths and weaknesses. Mentors then look for opportunities to help you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you’d like to go. You may have someone who has offered to do this informally – this person may be a good mentor. However, you want to make sure that your mentor is willing to put the time in on a consistent basis. For this reason, you might want to ask the person you are approaching if they would be willing to meet with you informally once a month, to ensure that this conversation continues and has structure. You also have to hold up your end of the bargain – take notes and write down action steps at the end of each meeting so that you are always making forward progress. Then, feed that information back to your mentor so they know that they are helping you. Following this process goes a long way in promoting mentor and mentee engagement.
Finally, good mentors for women at work are conscious of the fact that women still tend to be assigned greater responsibilities at home than men do, with regard to housework and childcare responsibilities. Your mentor should help you to work through these challenges and provide support for you in doing so. If your mentor is constantly in the office, never takes breaks and seems not to have a life outside of the office, their advice may create more stress than comfort. Finding a mentor who seems to be able to balance work and life will help you to create healthy strategies for doing so yourself, which creates a more sustainable plan in the long run for women who wish to remain active in both spheres.
Overall, it’s important for women to have mentorship but they are less likely to have mentors organically approach them, compared to their male counterparts. Asking for a mentor can help, but you have to know who to look for. The mentor-mentee relationship can be very powerful but it has to be a good fit. Finding your best fit mentor can help to level the playing field and ensure long-term success.