“Mentors are more important to career success than hard work, more important than talent, and more important than intelligence.”– Sheila Wellington, Former President of Catalyst
In a LinkedIn survey of more than 1,000 female professionals in the United States, 82 percent agreed that having a mentor is important — but nearly 1 out of 5 women also responded that they had never had a mentor.
Many people therefore seem to understand the benefits that a mentoring relationship can bring, but few know where to begin. How do you know you are on the right track? How do you make your efforts worthwhile? This article aims to break down mentoring, and really discover what it means to be on either side of this relationship:
Read the Research: Mentoring Works!
For women, it’s proven that things like networking are a challenge: we don’t necessarily like to do it. After all, creating a conversation with someone out of thin air is not an easy task. In addition, there’s a lot of effort in finding time to continue and maintain those relationships.
That said, it’s worth noting that mentoring – a very specific form of networking — can be one of the most beneficial relationships in business and in life. Research (see below) has found that people who are mentored and sponsored report having more career success such as higher compensation, a greater number of promotions, greater career and job satisfaction, and stronger career commitment. For instance:
In a 2006 study conducted by Gartner for Sun Microsystems, a technology company in California, researchers studied 68 variables related to mentoring over a five year period. They found that:
Mentees were promoted five times more often than those not in a mentoring program. (This supports the use of mentoring for succession planning and diversity initiatives).
25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary-grade increase, while only five percent (5%) of workers who did not participate in a mentoring program had an increase in compensation.
Retention rates were also higher for both mentees (72%) and mentors (69%) than non- participating employees.
Also, research done by Catalyst that 69 percent of women with mentors had an upward career move in the following three years, compared to 49 percent of women with no mentor. According to another Catalyst study, 37 percent of current women executives state that having a mentor or sponsor was a critical ingredient of their personal success.
The bottom line is that organizations that offer mentoring programs will help women advance — and those that don’t, need to develop some one for employees, especially women. If your company doesn’t offer a formal program, it is up to you to develop a mentoring relationship.
Following are some tips to explain the essentials of this career-changing connection:
What is a mentor? A mentor advises, listens, and inspires his or her mentee to set and achieve goals.
How do I do “research” on the person who I would like to have as a mentor? First, do some reflecting. Who in your life has been a resource to you? Who has reached out to you or helped you? Is there someone who stands out to you as having been a proactive presence in your life or career?
It’s possible that someone is already mentoring you informally, but you never labeled it as a “mentoring relationship.” If so, build on that! If you are at a point in your life that you feel you are not being mentored, we encourage you to seek out someone who:
You trust or could come to trust. This is someone who will be transparent and honest with you.
Is in a field or position that you aspire to be. Learn from their experiences – good and bad.
Has confidence and success in their role. If you want to grow, connect with someone who is successful and motivated.
Is accessible. Make sure you engage in this relationship with someone who will set aside the time it takes to achieve results. If they care about you, they will make time for you.
What is formal mentoring? A very structured and regulated type of mentoring relationship is classified as “formal mentoring.” Organizations that offer formal mentoring programs create links between all tiers of the company, connecting lower-level professionals with higher-level workers to motivate them to achieve personal and organizational goals. This type of mentoring is often bound by an agreement or contract.
What is “informal mentoring,” and why is it important? If an organization does not have a formal program that can provide you with a mentor, there are still ways to find someone to fill that role for you.
Informal mentoring is a less structured and often a more natural form of mentoring. Sometimes it is facilitated by the organization, and other times it just happens on its own. Because of this, a lot of responsibility is placed on both partners to maintain their relationship. Unlike formal mentoring relationships, this form is more likely to stay intact for longer periods of time, only because it is not bound by a contract of an organization.
In one of our favorite books, How Remarkable Women Lead, by Joanne Barsh & Susie Cranston, they share data showing that informal relationships are the more powerful career accelerators.
How often should I meet with my mentor? A typical timeframe, and one to strive for, is once a month. However, this varies for everyone. It could be every two weeks or every two months, but no matter what, the most important thing is to set a clear expectation for how often you will meet, and to keep each other accountable.
How can I check in with my mentor to stay on track without hassling them? This is why it is important to set the expectation up front. Have an honest conversation at your next meeting and ask them, “What is the best way for me to communicate with you?” Or try saying, “We’ve had some difficulty staying on schedule to meet. With respect to your time, how can we be more consistent?”
What are the boundaries of a mentoring relationship? Depending on the nature of the mentoring relationship, boundaries differ. If you are involved in a formal mentoring program for your company, it is a good idea to meet at work or in another professional setting. Informal mentoring, on the other hand, may cross over to include meetings outside of work and meeting family. Likewise, a professional relationship may become a close friendship.
How do I turn my mentoring relationship into career success? If you are meeting regularly, speaking honestly and challenging each other when you meet with your mentor, you will experience results. Turning those results into a promotion or a raise (measureable career success) is more difficult to qualify.
If you are serious about making some specific changes in your career, verbalize them with your mentor, set strategic and clear goals, and periodically discuss that progress together.
Mentors and Mentees Speak: Perspectives on the Process
My greatest joy as a leader was, and continues to be, the relationships and the ability to lead others to discover their passion to be their best self. It didn’t take me long in my first leadership role to realize it wasn’t about me. It was about the people I was entrusted with to motivate and develop. Watching individuals grow personally and professionally and seeing their joy as they succeed is the greatest satisfaction I can experience in my life!
MENTOR: Linda Hajduk, Mentor, EDGE Mentoring
Linda Hajduk has been one of my dearest mentors throughout for 20 of my 30+ years in health care. We both share the passion for serving through patients and their families. Through my professional years, I have relied on her for counsel about how best to handle certain situations and also how to use my talents and experience to serve in my role in my organization.
MENTEE: Kathleen McAllen, Strategic Planning and Execution Community Health Network/Visionary Enterprises Inc.
Mentoring is a powerful and meaningful responsibility as a leader, and I have taken it to heart. However, what I didn’t expect was how much I have learned from my mentee. I am open to learning from my mentee and I enjoy the fresh perspective she brings to our organization. She has enlightened me with her strong sense of “reading others” when important strategic decisions are being made. Being open to learning and receiving feedback as a mentor or mentee enhances the growth for both people involved.
MENTOR: Jennifer Browning Holmes, President & CEO, Integrating Woman Leaders, Inc.
I wouldn’t be in my position today without those around me who encouraged and supported me, and who stepped up as mentors. I feel very fortunate as a young professional to have someone invested in my career success — someone who genuinely cares about me and has my best interests at heart. It is an immeasurable gift.
MENTEE: Maggie Anderson, Director of Marketing & Business Development, Integrating Woman Leaders, Inc.
Contributed by: Maggie Anderson