CAREER

Rethinking Mentorship

By Nicole Spiegel‒Gotsch

If the word mentorship makes you think of a Yoda-like figure guiding an ambitious, young protégé to great heights, you’re not alone. Here’s the problem. Aside from being idealized, that image represents just one type of mentorship. Which, if you’re fortunate enough to experience it, is great because, as it turns out, most women (including myself) haven’t.

Countless studies recognize the value and necessity of mentorship for women, and articles like this one continue to assert that mentorship is critical for women in leadership. Yet, according to a study by DDI 63% of women have never had a formal mentor.

This brings me to the reasons for this post:

  • To touch on the value of other, less formal types of mentorship.
  • To encourage creating mentorship moments for yourself.
  • To bring women leaders into the mentorship conversation.

 

Peer Mentoring

This is one of my favorite types of mentorship. Non-profit organizations like Women Who Code, have successfully tapped its power, especially for skills-based training. However, it seems to happen less frequently in corporate contexts. Maybe there’s a perception that a mentor is synonymous with a manager or the Csuite. This is a shame because being a manager doesn’t automatically make someone a good mentor or interested in elevating direct reports. It also underestimates the potential power of peer mentorship. In my experience, there were women colleagues who were far better mentors than those above me in the company hierarchy. For instance, in one of my roles, I had a manager with a well-earned reputation for being toxic. Rather than allowing this person to stunt my growth, I sought the knowledge and support of colleagues both in and outside of my department. Although I eventually left that job, those colleagues nurtured my professional development and made a difficult position more bearable.

 

Mentorship Moments

Career modeling and observation are at the heart of this. The beauty of mentorship moments is that they don’t rely on one person. Instead, you take what you learn on specific projects by asking questions and observing how colleagues, vendors, partners and even professionals outside your industry conduct themselves in different scenarios and put it all together. Early in my career, I worked at a nonprofit where we ran on a skeleton crew. My direct manager was the Executive Director. Although I learned a lot from her, and in many ways, she was an amazing mentor, the nature of her role meant that she didn’t work with me day-to-day. So I looked to people who I worked with every day, soaking in what they did and how like a sponge—membership and sponsorship marketing, databases, site management and analytics, reporting, speaking, presenting. The list goes on. By adapting and incorporating it into my own work, I grew and so did the program I managed. Add informational interviews to this approach and you’ll find yourself with a deep well to draw from.

 

Women Leaders

What about women leaders, who are advanced in their careers? With so much of the mentorship conversation focused on young professionals, it’s easy to see how women leaders might get left out or be reluctant to seek out mentors for fear of undermining their professional image. I’ve even felt this way. “If I ask for help will that take away from my credibility?” At the same time, as women rise up the ranks, the stakes get higher, making it equally important to create spaces for them to seek and get high-level support. Looking at the data, it becomes clear that mentorship is needed for women at every career stage. If you’re looking for a mentor or would like to become a mentor, visit the NYWICI mentorship page for information.

Nicole Spiegel‒Gotsch

Nicole Spiegel‒Gotsch is the founder and CEO of Mavyn, a consultancy launched in 2020 to help women business owners, entrepreneurs and “sidepreneurs” master their marketing. When she’s not working, you’ll find her writing, doing yoga or spending time with her husband and their dog Bea. Connect with her @hellomavyn on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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