September WiSE Up Discussion Recap: WiSE thoughts on mentors

Published: September 22nd, 2014

Category: WiSE Up

By Savanna Barry and Hannah Pohlmann

Thank you to all who attended the WiSE Up discussion at The Midnight! The food and the discussion were both great, as always, and we are excited to bring you this recap.

This month’s WiSE Up was inspired by a poll taken by LinkedIn that revealed about 20% of women have never had a mentor. We started our discussion by taking a series of our own polls to see how our group compared with the broader population and to help quantify some important aspects of mentorship experiences. The results of the first poll showed that our group has a higher percentage of women who have had at least one mentor in comparison to the LinkedIn poll results (88% in our group vs. ~80% in LinkedIn poll). Additionally, many in the group had multiple mentors. This is great news!

We probed a little deeper with three more polls and found that fewer in the group had female mentors. Still fewer had defined the mentoring relationships explicitly, with even fewer having been defined from the outset. How fascinating!

WiSE UP Sept 17th Blog figures - w percentage

Some important questions were raised out of these polling exercises and led to constructive discussion the helped us wrap our heads around what we need and want from a mentor:

    1. What is a mentor? Many were unclear at the outset about who could be considered a mentor. Initially, the general feeling from the group was that the relationship had to be beneficial in some way. However, it seemed that a clear distinction arose when someone pointed out that a mentor is someone who goes above and beyond the expected. For example, your advisor is expected to write recommendation letters for you but not necessarily expected to invite you to a social event and introduce you to important people in your field. It was noted that field-specific differences exist in what is considered “above and beyond”.
    2. Does the relationship need to be defined? The consensus was that there is not necessarily a need to define the relationship up front, in many cases. However, some felt that it can be useful to define the goals and expectations. Many of our members are involved in the UMMP program, which pairs mentors with mentees and expects goals to be defined via a paper form. It was clear, however, that each person had a different experience with their mentee. The diversity of goals and modes of interaction in each of these relationships contributes to the difficulty of defining what it is to be mentored, possibly contributing to a general lack of clarity about who can be considered a mentor (see #1).
    3. What does your ideal mentor look like?
      • Helps you network.
      • Gives you behind the scenes insights and tips for success.
      • Someone with a positive voice but not afraid to give constructive criticism (critically evaluates CVs, cover letters, etc. to recognize your shortcomings and helps you correct them).
      • Proactive.
      • Suggests you for awards. Is invested in you on a personal level
    4. Should we be approaching potential mentors and asking directly for mentorship? The majority of people did not seem to think we needed to be more proactive on this front. Rather, many felt we should just be more conscious of possible mentors in our lives and steer existing connections in that direction more naturally. Several people expressed the feeling that mentorship relationships “just happen” when you are in work situations with compatible people. Some suggestions were to seek out potential mentors in the AWIS group or to move toward a more defined relationship with existing mentors by saying something like “I think of you as a mentor”.

The take-home:

We need to cultivate several mentors (a “personal board of directors”) to fill different needs (i.e., the shoulder to cry on might not be the same as the person that sings your praises at a conference). These relationships will probably not be defined up-front (and that’s okay) but should be refined and defined with time as you discover what each member of your personal board has to offer. Many of us already have a great start on building a “personal board” and building strong personal connections is typically thought to be an area of strength for women. We simply need to start thinking of the natural ability to connect as something that can further us professionally.

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