SVI Women in Vancouver this year will be presenting a Mentorship Panel that I’m personally really looking forward to hearing attendees thoughts on. I’m nearly finished Sheryl Sandberg’s new Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead, and her “Are You My Mentor?” chapter really got me thinking. Among the points that Sandberg raises, she straight-up declares that many women are doing mentorship wrong. I found myself jumping to the defence of my fellow business gals, who I know regularly struggle to find suitable mentors. Doing it wrong? I thought. How dare she. But, as I mulled over the chapter, I think she’s onto a something.
To simplify her points significantly, she’s effectively saying that men tend to seek out leaders and elders and then ask them pointed questions or for strategic connections. Women on the other hand, she describes, approach leaders they admire and as for a mentorship relationship, but don’t get very specific beyond that. And, as she says “Few mentors have time for excessive hand-holding. Most are dealing with their own high-stress jobs.” And, she’s right. A mentee who asks focused questions of a senior mentor, who is likely to have strengths in that particular area, is going to get a lot more out of the relationship. Women, she’s suggesting, just hope that a relationship will form between themselves and a senior leader who will take them under their wing, but don’t but do much to definition on the relationship beyond that.
In recent years I’ve had the joy of bring approached by a few young women who have asked if I could mentor them, each has posed the question after having had some interactions with me, where they were able to ask a few pointed questions about where they’re at in their careers. Following the initial interactions they have then followed up by checking in with me on specific occasions where they’ve felt like they’ve needed guidance or advice. These relationships have been positive for me as well, as I’ve had a chance to think outside of my day-to-day tasks, give a lift and make introductions for young women in whom I see great potential, and I hope the relationship has been equally positive for them.
One of the very real challenges that women face in mentorship relationships is a lack of senior women to play mentorships roles — which is not to say that men can’t mentor women, but I do think there’s value for younger women in learning from our elders who have faced some of the same challenges we have. I’m hoping one of the things we’ll do at SVI is inspire some of the incredible leaders who will be attending to step into mentorship roles. I’m excited to continue this conversation and learn from the women gathered at SVI Women to hear about how we can all improve in mentorship relationships and foster more of them in our community, with a goal of helping more of us succeed in our endeavours.