Since the inception of WOMEN Unlimited in 1994, we have pinpointed mentoring, along with education and networking, as one of our three pillars for developing female talent. Our involvement with thousands of high potential women and hundreds of mentors has helped forge our perspective on how key mentoring relationships can and should work for BOTH mentees and their mentors.
First of all, we have learned that mentoring works best for women when the mentee is clearly focused on her career and development goals, her strengths and her expectations… and when she prepares for the mentoring relationship by pre-planning and committing as she would for any high-powered corporate interaction.
In my independent research and based on numerous conversations with mentors and mentees, I have come to call this approach “being intentional.” It means that there is little chance of the relationship failing to provide the critical learnings necessary for the mentee’s development and career advancement. It means that the mentee leverages both the mentor’s time and experiences to forge her own career strategies.
To help mentees hone these skills, we incorporate mentoring as part of our formal development programs. In this way mentees build on their strengths and focus on areas in need of development in a safe, non-threatening venue outside the standard corporate environment. These skills are then transferable not only to finding and building internal mentor relationships, but also to a wide range of needed business relationships.
Why Mentors Find Value in Our Approach to Mentoring
Selection of effective mentors is crucial to the success of the mentoring relationship. We work closely with our corporate partners to help them find and nominate male and female executives to serve as mentors for women from other organizations. We provide guidelines for mentoring success. We factor in time for involvement both in person and virtually.
We encourage mentors to provide honest and constructive feedback to their mentees. According to research, this straightforward feedback is often missing in women’s interactions with their bosses and colleagues, creating an obstacle to talented women making the changes necessary to assume top leadership roles. Our mentors help close that gap.
While the mentoring experience is primarily about providing women a safe relationship in which to discuss their careers, both male and female mentors tell us that it has been a transformational learning experience for them as well.
A few examples:
- Both male and female mentors gain new insights into the challenges women are facing today
- The insights they gain as mentors, can easily be applied to other organizational relationships
- They continue to hone their mentoring and coaching skills for their team members at work
- They have a clearer picture of how they can be stronger advocates for organization-wide diversity
- They gain a greater understanding of the impact of corporate culture on the advancement of women
- Because of their seniority in the organization, the mentors’ new insights and commitment have far-reaching impact on their management and their teams
To summarize, in order for mentoring to “live up to its hype,” there are three basic rules of thumb:
- Mentees have to be intentional about the relationship
- Mentees need a safe environment in which to learn effective mentoring strategies and fine tune these career-building skills
- Mentors are most likely to continue as mentors when they see benefits for their mentees, for their teams and for their organizations and when they perceive themselves learning and growing from the process, as well.
To learn more about effective mentoring, click here to take a look at a synopsis of my independent research.
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.