Los Angeles—Written by Nicole Bastos, Staff Writer
If you’re looking to launch or grow your professional career, it’s only a matter of time before someone suggests that you find a mentor. Almost seven out ten women consider formal mentorship a critical component to their success, according to a study by DDI World. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them – over 80% – have never benefited from this potentially life-changing relationship.
Mentoring provides opportunities to gain a broader perspective of the professional world, as well as to network and build social capital in their chosen industry. This is especially important for millennial women who often have difficulty penetrating the male-dominated environment of referrals and networking. If the relationship works, it can build leadership skills, value and character, and be a great boost to your reputation.
Know What You’re Up Against
If you are just starting your career, exploring different paths, or switching careers, hard work is required to reach your goals, but it is no secret that success is based on how you utilize your network. Understanding how others may perceive millennials is key to how millennial women approach mentorship.
Unfortunately, there is an apparent disconnect with millennial women and their would-be mentors. Many millennial women look up to an older generation. With this comes the stigma tied to millennial work ethic. Lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed are typical words used to describe millennials by other generations without keeping in mind that millennials face challenges other generations may not fully grasp. Recognizing this generational gap and knowing how to maneuver around this bias can help you gain an advantage to find the right mentor.
New Challenges and Perspectives
While women share similar experiences in regards to childcare issues, confidence issues or other gender-related challenges, these main barriers to growth may not necessarily unite them across generations. Social media constantly targets women and their bodies with images and messaging telling them how they should look, feel and behave. Consequently, these unrealistic physical standards of beauty are used to determine their worth. Plastic surgery is now more common than ever and the need for immediate reward combined with a need for social acceptance facilitated through technology creates a unique, unprecedented environment. Additionally, more millennial women have gone through higher education than men and have massive student loan debt, yet have not seen the rewards in their salaries, promotions, or job opportunities. They are settling down later and many choose not to have kids in order to focus on their careers. Rather than seeking work and life balance, their life is their work and their “sense of purpose is a key factor in their job satisfaction” as noted in the Harvard Business Review article, “Mentoring Millennials” by Jeanne C. Meiser and Kerie Willyerd. While every generation faced their own challenges, we cannot ignore what millennials face today, especially since “millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025” according to the Fusion Hill article, “Millennial Women: Facing Old Challenges in New Ways.” Understanding this shift in perspective will help make your mentorship journey one that increases your awareness as a millennial woman.
Finding a Mentor
The best place to start is with your own network. Asking someone you’ve met or know of is a great way to find a mentor if you’re just starting out. If your network does not turn up any candidates, you could sign up for a women-focused networking event. Or you could participate on one of the online forums created specifically for women in your industry.
Use technology to help you with an initial connection, but do not rely on it to make the connection for you. While tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Slack channels may help get the conversation started, they are no match for face-to-face time and genuine connection, which is an interaction closely associated with older generations.
When you’ve identified someone you think might be a good candidate, it is wise to tread gently. Begin the conversation with an invitation to coffee and make sure you ask questions about the person’s experience and ethos to get a better idea of how you might work together. Avoid jumping in too hastily. Finding a good mentor is a process and you might have to talk to a lot of people before you find the right fit.
What to Look for in a Mentor
The person you approach should have the right qualities and industry experience to guide you on your journey. Ideally, you should choose someone you look up to; someone who has accomplished the same goals that you wish to achieve. Be clear about your goals with them and make sure to follow through.
The next step is to figure out whether you will be able to work well with this person. A good mentor will:
· Help you to explore ideas
· Suggest options and game plans
· Encourage you to do things for yourself
· Give you a reality check when necessary
· Inspire you to achieve more than you could on your own
Many mentorship relationships are not defined at first. A potential mentor may or may not have the time for scheduled sit-downs or be open to a fixed schedule. Test the waters first. Seek mentoring moments by asking for help on one task or challenge at a time. This is a great way to show dependability, willingness to learn, and passion. Being patient during this process is important because it is critical in building that rapport with a potential mentor. They are opportunities to demonstrate that you are coachable and considerate of their time. As this connection develops and deepens, you enter a space where it is safer to ask for formal mentorship, although it may not be necessary especially if you are accessing the information and opportunities you hoped to obtain. Showing hard work and the ability to actively seek solutions counters the millennial stigma and also sets a good example for other millennial women these potential mentors will likely encounter.
As millennial women make their mark in the workforce, mentorship remains a definitive way to open doors of opportunity for the leaders of tomorrow. While standards for working women change from generation to generation and technology’s influence re-shapes how we operate in the professional world, mentorship remains a solid avenue for millennial women to become successful professionals.
Copyright June 21, 2019 by Nicole Bastos. Contact for usage license.