For many women, the key to success is mentorship. Finding a mentor can be valuable for every professional woman, especially those working in male-dominated industries. A study on female peer mentorship in college found that “women in engineering who were assigned a female (but not male) peer mentor experienced more belonging, motivation, and confidence in engineering, better retention in engineering majors, and greater engineering career aspirations.”
The study authors found that female mentors promoted the women’s aspirations to pursue engineering careers because their mentorship “protected women’s belonging and confidence.”
The same can be said for female mentoring as women work their way up the career ladder. Set-backs, lack of respect, and being overlooked for promotions can all take a toll on both growth and mindset. As you look for a mentor to overcome these challenges—male or female—take some advice from these successful women who have been where you are too.
Turn the Think Global/Act Local Credo Upside Down
Nicole Snow, founder and CEO, Darn Good Yarn
Don’t think small when looking for a mentor. Instead, Nicole Snow suggests asking yourself: “Who in your local area is working in your field of interest on a larger than local scale?” Don’t get discouraged if your first search turns up with few options. “Finding these diamonds in the rough will take some detective work, but local organizations and events within the sector you’re interested in should give you a good base to start with,” explains Snow.
In addition to events, get active with local community industry events and on professional networking sites, both of which provide another opportunity to meet your dream mentor, according to Snow.
When you do find the person you want to work with, it’s time to make your ask, but don’t stop there. Use this as a chance to highlight the skills you bring to the table and be honest about what you want and where you’re at in your career.
Snow explains, “Let them know that you’re just getting started and request an informational interview. You can also request to be considered for a junior position, internship, or quarterly mentoring sessions. Moxie is appreciated when coupled with respect. Give as much as you take and be gracious.”
Look for an External Mentor
Sandi Knight, CHRO, HealthMarkets
Sandi Knight was lucky to have a few mentors and one mentor, early in her career, was one of the most impactful. Knight explains, “He brought me to meetings he thought I should attend involving people at ‘the next level’ so I could be seen and heard. He helped ensure I was exposed to opportunities as part of my growth, and I have always been grateful for that.”
When you think of mentor like this, you may immediately consider someone at your current company or within your field. However, Sandi Knight suggests looking outside of this immediate network: “I have found that it can be very rewarding to have an external mentor—someone who is not associated with your organization, perhaps not even your industry or field.”
Knight suggests that this is especially helpful for executives who lack experience from other companies. “Executives who have only worked at one company and have come up through the ranks, so to speak, don’t have the experience from other companies that give them a different way of looking at things.”
The key, however, is reaching out to the mentor if he or she doesn’t come to you. If you’re not sure where to look, Knight recommends asking friends, neighbors and colleagues if they admire an executive who might be willing to mentor you.
When you find the right fit, don’t be afraid to ask for you what you need the most help with. Knight explains, “I especially stress that female executives never be afraid to ask questions; speak up for what you need, you might be pleasantly surprised at the response.”
Diane Elizabeth, former tech entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of Skin Care Ox
Working in the world of tech, Diane Elizabeth knows that being a woman can be difficult and even scary. Finding a mentor can be critical to your growth in this industry, but don’t just ask another female executive for weekly meetings. Elizabeth quickly learned this lesson at her first paid marketing internship: “I thought that seeking help was the way to show her that I was dedicated. Wow, was I wrong.”
Her would-be her future mentor taught her that the key to success isn’t simply walking into an office and making your ask, but being prepared. “After my meeting, I was given homework. My future mentor told me to draft a plan of how I would add value to her day, how I could teach her new things that I learned in my role as an intern, and how we could work together to better the department.”
If you feel nervous about the idea of offering to share your thoughts or feedback to a senior employee, Elizabeth says, “I had no idea she would care about what I had to say, but she did. Don't forget that you always have a voice, no matter how far along you are in your career.”
Another important part of your preparation is research, suggests Elizabeth: “Research your potential mentors career, understand their role at your company, figure out what value you can add to their day-to-day.” The value is in showing this person you admire that you’ve taken time to consider how important he or she can be to your career and why they’re the perfect person to guide you.
Establish an Informal Relationship First
Katherine Huang, Founder, Inkvest
Katherine Huang was an early employee of Uber and founding member of UberEats, mentoring more than 20 female engineers during her time. However, she didn’t move from employee to founding member of UberEats without mentorship herself. Her best tip: establish an informal relationship.
Huang explains, “It can be as simple as asking about their weekend during a coffee break. I bonded with the head of UberBusiness over her love of ballroom dancing. Asking her about her hobby, how she got started, what type of training is involved, etc., was a great ice breaker.”
This is a smart way to connect with a potential mentor before you’re looking to learn something specific or take a leap in your career. Huang built this relationship before she needed “help” and was able to reach out to the head of UberBusiness for advice when she needed it most: during a big company reorganization, when she wasn’t sure which department to move to.
“She gave me an honest insight into which departments were dysfunctional, which areas were growing the fastest, largely because we built trust over time,” says Huang. What’s more, this relationship and the advice she received led her to join an initial team that few people knew about, which “went on to launch and build UberEats.”
You don’t always know when you need a mentor or what you can provide or get in return. In those times, focus on making relationships—you never know where they can lead you.
Don’t Discount Family
Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
"I'm a small business owner who credits my mom as one of my biggest mentors,” says Deborah Sweeney. The lesson she’s learned is that some of the best mentors are already in your life, as family members. “As a teenager, you probably rolled your eyes at the thought that mom (or dad or anyone else) knew best, but this often changes for many individuals when they get older.”
Not only is this person already in your life, but they likely know your career plans and all the work you’ve put in to get where you are today. This “built-in” connection means, “there's no need to rehash your career plans or goals with them because they likely already know what you're doing and where you want to go and can provide actionable advice for your road map for success.”
When looking for family mentors, Sweeney suggests looking past your immediate family to cousins, your spouse, or a grandparent. “These mentors can be any age and work in any field as long as they have a valuable, honest perspective to offer."
Find Your Mentor
Use this advice to find the best mentor for your career growth and needs, whether they’re male or female. The first step may be the hardest one: reaching out, so just remember that the right person will help you find important learning experiences, provide critical feedback, and be open to your support however you can provide it. If you want to grow in your career, this step can’t be overlooked.