Businesswoman 101: Get A Mentor Now!
The benefits of having a mentor are no secret in the business world.
Statistics show that mentees develop stronger skill sets, get promoted faster and earn more money. Despite all the research that shows the benefits of having a mentor, 63% of professional women report that they have never had one.
Karen Buell, Vice President Customer Innovation Lab with Mary Meehan, First Vice President Commercial Lending
While Karen Buell, Vice President, Customer Innovation Lab at PeoplesBank, was not aware of the statistical benefits of being mentored, she knew that she wanted one. She contacted the Human Resources department at the bank and expressed interest in a mentor – actually, one particular mentor. Karen knew Mary Meehan, First Vice President, Commercial Lending, from their time on the bank’s strategic planning committee and knew that Mary had valuable experience that could help her. Mary agreed to be Karen’s mentor, but they were both surprised at how things turned out. After years of working together, they have come up with five steps to creating a successful mentoring relationship.
1. Get started early
Time is of the essence. Don't put mentoring on your future to-do list for a year or two from now. Especially as a new employee or when starting a new job, strike while the iron is hot. “I was in an early place in my career and needed direction,” notes Karen. “I wanted to become successful, but I was also experiencing a lot of new pressures: being newly married, building a house, working on my MBA, and starting a family. If I was going to succeed, I knew I needed advice on doing it all or at least planning to do it all eventually.”
2. Pick your future self
Look ahead and find someone who is there already. Where do you want to go and who is already there? It is important not only to pick a woman who will make time for you and be a good listener, but also your mentoring efforts will succeed if your mentor is successful as well. “Businesswomen are pulled in many directions. It’s important to talk with someone who’s been there before,” says Karen. “Mary experienced the pressures I felt firsthand, from having a career and the ‘glass ceiling,’ to starting a family and the pressures on working moms.” Mary suggests, “Karen and I are very similar in terms of style. I see myself in her as we are both hard working, high achievers, and conscientious. Yet, sometimes I try to pull her back a bit and encourage her to rely on others.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask
Don’t wait for a mentor to seek you out. Remember, the worst a prospective mentor can say is no. Amazingly, you may find that your mentor is actually very happy that you have asked for her help. “When I was contacted to be a mentor, I was flattered,” remembers Mary. “I thought to myself that I could have used a mentor when I was where Karen was. I was working hard then, married also, and I had so many questions and concerns. It would have been great to talk to someone.”
4. It’s a two way street
That’s important. While most of us generally assume that one person is going to get the benefit from the relationship, successful mentoring is quite the opposite. Mentors report that the relationship helped them as well. Mary and Karen both get value from the mentoring relationship. “Karen is bright and articulate, I learn a lot about myself while listening to her,” says Mary. “I reflect and think about my own journey. The relationship has been so beneficial for both of us.”
5. More than just the job
What goes on in a mentoring meeting? Sharing, but not just what is going on at work. Karen and Mary suggest that sharing both work and life stories are helpful. They also note that the conversations evolve over time, from discussing managers, hiring, and relationships to being a mother and perhaps buying a house. All these discussions help with prioritizing work and dealing with the challenges we all face. “Mary is very good at helping me prioritize and bring balance to my life,” states Karen. “We meet every couple months to touch base. I always walk away with nuggets of wisdom!”