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Defining Mentorship for Women in Business
Mentorship can have many faces. There are formal mentorships where you either seek a mentor or a mentor seeks you through a program specifically designed to match up mutually beneficial relationships. Then there are more casual mentorships that develop naturally and spontaneously that also benefit both parties.
Mentors are individuals who are part of the success network you establish for your career or business. They are people you trust who will be honest and frank with you, even if they are telling you things that are difficult to hear. They share their experiences with you as lessons learned and listen to you vent about your professional challenges of the moment. They expect you to be solutions-oriented but are there for you to bounce around ideas with someone who has been there and done that.
A mentee is the person who is mentored and receives guidance from someone else. There is no age specification for a mentor or a mentee, and nothing says that a mentor must be older than a mentee. There are no written rules that dictate a mentoring relationship. The details and parameters of mentorship are set by the mentor and mentee and should be established early on in the relationship.
According to a 2011 report from the professional social network LinkedIn, the top five benefits of mentorship are:
In the same report, LinkedIn pointed out that nearly one out of every five women in the U.S. does not have a mentor and so are missing out on advantages that come through interacting with others who have direct or related business experiences.
Your mentoring relationship should be based on honesty, be entirely confidential and valuable to both sides. The idea that a mentor is there simply to help the mentee presents an incomplete picture of the mutuality of mentoring. Both parties should be empowered and enriched by their conversations and interactions.
In a 2010 article in the Harvard Business Review, the concept of “sponsorship” versus traditional mentorship was outlined. Sponsorship involves a much more active approach than a mentor giving feedback and advice to a mentee. A sponsor goes out of their way to advocate for the mentee, making introductions and giving their professional recommendations to advance the mentee’s career. Although in the article, sponsorship was brought up as a key benefit to women in a corporate setting, this kind of active endorsement can benefit a woman business owner as well.
A sponsor can quickly make inroads to angel investors or venture capitalists, for example, an area where relationships are key and where women are still underrepresented. A sponsor could also be helpful making an introduction to a high level banker for a loan or to a major vendor or potential customer who might prefer a warm referral instead of a cold call.
Keep in mind that as a woman business owner, you can play both the mentor role and be a mentee. You can seek out both mentors and sponsors for yourself and be a mentor or sponsor to others. Don’t underestimate the power of your own experiences as lessons for others or the value of your network as a tool to help boost someone else’s business or career. Again, remember that mentoring relationships should be mutual, not one-sided.
You may not have to look far to find a mentor or mentee. Mentorship can happen within an organization as well as without. Because of the way technology has brought us closer together, there are no real barriers to mentoring relationships that span a state, a country or a continent. As long as you set up the process for how to carry out your mentoring relationship, you can be in touch by phone, through email, on Skype, via text messages, meeting in a private web-based forum, or any other method of connecting.
Regardless of your mentorship, always make sure both parties keep their expectations and needs clear. Open communication is key to the success of a mentoring relationship as is mutual respect of one another’s time and energy.