"A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you." - Bob Proctor
When I became a first-time mother my career gears shifted. Having been on top gear for about a decade, I quickly recognized that as a working mother “I have to switch gears for some time.” First, I was on maternity leave. Personally, this in itself was a big change to deal with because my professional identity was a big part of “who” or “what?” I was, and “how” my every day was organized. Second, when I resumed work, my priority was the “elusive work life balance” which most working mothers “aspires or strives for”. These two factors drove a lot of the career choices and decisions I made at that phase of my life. And these choices and decisions did come with their own pros and cons; which affected both my professional and personal life.
Today, as I look back to connect the dots – I can say that I am happy with the choices and decisions I made. And thankfully, they were possible due to the role played by a few “trusted mentors” who provided the much need ear and advise when I was going through phases of change, dealing with uncertainty, or just unsure about myself / things! I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of mentors as a part of my career journey – They primarily included my father, my husband, ex-managers at work and a couple of close well-wishers / advisors.
So here is the first fact, from my own career journey, I can say that having a “real mentor” can make an ocean of difference in the life and career of women.
And here’s the second fact, the sad reality is that many working women have never really had mentors; and so they don’t know what it means to have one or what difference a mentor can make in your life
At the outset, let’s try to define who exactly is a “Mentor”?
1. Is non-judgmental
2. Is a listener; and a good one
3. Has your best long term interests in mind
4. Who truly understands a personal context / situation
5. Is experienced to handle a diverse set of "real-life" issues
6. Is neutral and balanced in views, outlook and perspective
7. Has the maturity to act as a trusted guide, confidant, counselor, adviser
8. Does not have any personal motives / gains from the interaction / mentorship
9. And specifically in the case of women, has some insights / understanding / appreciation of the "unique challenges" that women could possibly undergo in their career journey
Agreed that the above list may not be exhaustive, but if you can find someone who qualifies in the above, he/she can potentially be your mentor.
And how can a mentor make a difference in your life?
1. By listening - to your thoughts, emotions, questions and the dilemma at hand
2. By helping you acknowledge and recognize that phases of change / transition are only “temporary” (For e.g.: As a new mother tending 24 X 7 to the needs of your baby, it is so easy to wonder if that’s how your life is going to be – forever! During one such phase, what made a difference was when one of my mentors told me that “Children will not remain babies forever”. Logically, I knew this! But when you a first-time mother, it is almost impossible to look beyond your little world!)
3. By enabling you to accept what is in your control, and what is beyond your control
4. By compelling you to think about possibilities, choices and alternatives
5. By suggesting options / alternatives in a logical and balanced view taking a holistic and long term view of the issue
6. By helping you reach a decision; and take responsibility for the decision
7. By extending support, as applicable/ feasible to execute and live the decision
Looking back at my own career journey and in interactions with other working women I can definitely say that there are few milestones which impact / influence the career choices a woman makes. And during these phases, having a “mentor” can truly make all the difference:
Career Role Transitions: Taking up a new role which is very different from her current / past line of work (for e.g.: A move from Project Management to Marketing, A move from a customer facing project to internal support project, etc.) either due to personal choice / personal circumstance.
Career Breaks due to personal priorities and commitments: For e.g.: Marriage, Raising children, Spouse transfer / re-location, Tending to ailing parents, Personal health issues, Personal emergencies, etc.
Career Shifts: Moving from an IT job to becoming an entrepreneur.
Career Exits: Decisions to not pursue an active career for a finite / infinite time duration - either by choice or lack of choice.
Call for Action – Here’s what you can do here and now?
1. If you’re a women and at a crucial point in your career, try to find a mentor who can help / guide / advice you. Sometimes, we fail to recognize that people around us can be very good mentors (For e.g. Parents / spouse / friends / family). If only we speak up, share and listen – It can really make a difference
2. If you’re a leader in a position of influence, play the role of an active mentor – It can change someone’s career and life!
In conclusion, some food for thought
1. Are enough leaders playing the role of mentors – especially for women?
2. Are mentor's more important / significant in a women's career?
3. Are successful women leaders mentoring other women - either within the organization or as part of the industry ecosystem?