By Victoria Rollison
Need a boost up the ladder? It could be time to find yourself a mentor. RESCU discovers many of the most successful career women have had a mentor to guide their way.
Mentoring was once seen as having preferential treatment where someone senior (usually male) would help a rising star (also usually male) up the ladder. But today women are recognising the value of mentoring and are refashioning the old discriminatory practice of “playing favourites” into a legitimate avenue for their advancement. Strong, successful women now routinely have mentors.
And it just so happens that mentoring is something women are particularly good at. Mentoring is a relationship where one person provides advice, support and encouragement to another in the workplace. It can be informal, where a more senior woman meets regularly with a junior colleague over coffee to discuss things like issues in the workplace, skill improvement and career aspirations. Or it can be more formal with an agreed contract that includes specific goals and actions to be achieved over a given time period.
Mentoring can be useful at any stage of your career. Understanding how the organisation works, what skills it values, and how you can develop and display them is useful knowledge from day one. And your mentor doesn’t have to be that much more senior than you are.
Who makes a good mentor
Senior women know what it’s like to climb the career ladder, and are usually keen to share their insights with others. And who doesn’t like a good chat about how things are done in the workplace? There may be a few women who want to kick the ladder away behind them, but they are easy to recognise and avoid. There is no reason why your mentor has to be female if you can find a senior man who would do a good job. But it’s often easier to talk to another woman.
Becoming a mentor
There are benefits in being a mentor too. It helps develop leadership skills, it shows you understand the importance of career development, and it can be a great feeling to pass on your knowledge and understanding. It doesn’t hurt your resume either.
Finding a mentor
So how do you go about finding one of these useful people? If your company doesn’t have a mentoring program, you might suggest that it develops one. Or you might start one yourself. See if there is support for it among more senior women. It is also possible to have peer mentoring, where staff at more or less the same level mentor each other, which is a great staff development activity.
Of course, mentoring by other women in your business isn’t always possible. There may not be any senior women, or at least not ones that are interested. The company may be too small, or the few senior women too busy. But this is no reason why you should miss out.
Have a look at the Australian Women’s Mentoring Network. This organisation helps set up corporate mentoring networks, but also puts women who want mentors in touch with people who are interested in being mentors. What have you got to lose?
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