Question: There is a role model I admire. How do I engage them as a mentor?
Just ask! It truly can be as simple as just asking if they will mentor you.
Check for chemistry
Start by requesting an informational meeting of twenty minutes (an amount of time most people can spare).
Engaging a mentor is like going on a first date – you would not ask for somebody’s hand in marriage on a first date! Don’t ask your role model to mentor you the first time you meet. It is a big commitment for both parties to make. Instead, test the water with the informational meeting, to see if there is a match. Before you meet, prepare three or four specific topics for discussion. If the meeting goes well, and you sense good chemistry, ask if they would like to meet on a regular basis. Negotiate the frequency and format that benefits both of you.
If your company has a formal mentoring program, sign up for it. They are generally well-designed, and include a list of potential mentors who have volunteered and are awaiting assignments. Your role model may already have volunteered. The program will give you guidance and protocols for getting started, but be aware that the most successful mentoring relationships continue beyond the initial term and become more informal.
Why stop at one?
In her keynote at the National Association of Women MBAs conference, Kim Brown, VP of Finance at Walmart noted the crucial role that mentors have in a person's career growth, saying “You might only need one mentor, but I have five.” She mentors five to eight individuals herself.
What many employees don’t realize is how very much mentors gain from the experience.
Pay it forward: mentor others
One senior-level woman, a leader in telecommunications, said “Do I have a mentor? I do. I believe it’s very important that you not only have a mentor but that you also are a mentor to others. I learn as much through mentoring as I do by being a mentee. It keeps me on my toes because usually they are younger people who are going through some of the challenges that I went through earlier in my career.” As a mentor, she gains new perspectives on what’s going on in the world, and keeps in better touch with her own organization and the challenges that are there today.
Question: I had a man tell me he would feel uncomfortable mentoring a woman. If you are a woman engineer and all the potential mentors are male how should you proceed?
One approach is to know that there simply will not be chemistry between everyone you wish to have as your mentor. Schedule the informational meetings and do so until you find a match.
A second approach, if you are somewhat courageous, is to position this as a learning opportunity for both of you. You could say something like this: “To be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable approaching you too. I have not had a male mentor before. Since we are both new to this, there might be things we can both learn. I could answer any questions you have about working with and mentoring women, while you teach me about a… b… c…. Why don’t we set up an initial meeting, and see how it goes; if we decide to continue then great, and if not, that is fine.”
Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars and coaching programs.