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#BeBoldForChange was the theme for 2017 International Women’s Day with a call to help forge a more inclusive, gender equal world.  Companies across the world took to social media to show their support with the cause and we saw a number of excellent profiles on senior female business leaders across media platforms, LinkedIn, YouTube, corporate websites and blogs. We even watched as Wall Street’s bronze statue “Fearless Girl” boldly stood against Wall Street’s Charging Bull and went viral on social media as hundreds of thousands of people globally spoke about the symbolism behind that statue, meant to signify women’s empowerment in the financial sector and powerful traditionally male-oriented business sectors… As gender equality increasingly becomes a moral and business imperative, diversity training programmes have had limited success and individual effort alone often invites backlash, we look at how women in business can benefit from having the right female mentor.

As the world of work becomes ever-more complex, we are learning to navigate new jobs and new technologies. In addition to these challenges, women must also overcome stereotypes and balance having families during their peak career development phases. Having the right mentor has never been more crucial. The benefits of having a mentor are well-known and documented. Gone are the days of only having one mentor responsible for your development, the challenges of today’s complex work environment mean you will need a network of female mentors, sponsors, coaches, and peers.

But, how do you find the right mentor for you?

1.       Clarify your goals and expectations female mentors

Before you set out on your journey to find the right mentor, you need to clarify your expectations and what you want to learn from your mentor. If you aren’t specific about your goals, you won’t truly be able to measure your success. Start by asking yourself some basic questions like: 

  • What do you want to achieve? What are your personal and professional goals?
  • What role do you want your mentor to play? For example, do you want help expanding your professional network, or do you need advice from a successful entrepreneur to help kick-start your business?
  • What role will you play in the mentor- mentee relationship?
  • How will you take accountability for the success of your relationship with your mentor?

2.       Don’t limit your mentor search to your immediate environment

The majority of the time, your mentor won’t be working with you. You need to expand your horizons, join business clubs and find a person who you admire and who embodies attributes that you want to learn from. Remember, it’s likely that you’ll find two or three people who can mentor you based on your goals and expectations of what you want to achieve. Research your local business clubs, attend talks and seminars and identify people at conferences who are interesting to you. Your mentor/s could be from non-profit organizations, your university, within your family, church groups, even community groups such as business chambers of commerce.

3.       Reach out and set up a meeting

Once you’ve identified your potential mentor/s, set up a meeting to discuss a possible mentoring relationship. This is an important step to clarify expectations and ensure you’re both clear on the terms. Use this meeting as an opportunity to show your potential mentor that you have well-thought through goals and that you are serious and committed to your development. Agree the time commitments required as well as the type of mentor-mentee relationship that would work best for both your personalities and schedules to help meet your goals. 

4.       Always bring your best attitude

Be passionate and coachable. Mentors are devoting their time to help you, and time is a precious  commodity. Make their time investment into you something they can be proud of and glad to do by  showing your mentor that you are committed to what you are working on and that you are enthusiastic about your development.

5.       Establish trust

A successful mentor-mentee relationship requires trust, open and honest communication and the ability to accept feedback and constructive criticism. To establish a relationship based on trust, you need to understand each other, and as the mentee, it is important that you work to meet the requirements set out by your mentor. If there are tasks, with deadlines, that your mentor may have set and you are unable to meet them, it is essential that you manage expectations through an honest conversation. If there are aspects that you are unsure of, there should be a feeling of trust that you are working in a “safe” environment and are able to ask for help to aid the learning process.

6.       Be open to feedback

Part of your journey will involve feedback – both formal and informal – about all aspects of your career. Working closely with you, your mentor will become aware of your traits, how you handle situations and how these responses can be inhibiting your career growth. Be open to the feedback you receive. Some of it will be hard to hear and your development will rely on your ability to listen to the feedback you receive and how you process it. Introspection is not always easy as it means confronting aspects of yourself that will need to change. Be open to the feedback, particularly when it comes from a person that you admire and trust. There’s no point in asking for input, though, if you aren’t open to receiving it.

7.       Be conscious of your personal brand and your reputation online

These days it is likely that you will have a number of profiles on social media platforms, from LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to a host of other blogs. Be mindful of how you conduct yourself on these platforms as your online presence can and will have an impact on your personal and professional reputation. Regularly audit your profiles on these platforms and be conscious of what you post. Your career progression may be hampered by anything contentious that you post online. By the same token, take the time to create a profile that showcases your talent and strengths, as well as experiences.

8.       Acknowledge that gender parity issues exist

The unfortunate reality is that in many countries, gender may be a factor in your career. It is important to recognize the role of gender and consider how it may or may not impact opportunities at your workplace. A key benefit of women mentoring women is the potential comfort in shared experiences. Be open to this conversation.

9.       Become a mentor to junior people

Based on the “Pay It Forward” principle, as you learn from your mentor, take these learnings and apply them into your immediate environment. Become a leader that juniors within your department can look up to and learn from. Continue these learning moments as they help to not only develop your skills as a leader, they also contribute to a productive and positive working environment.