This year I volunteered to be a mentor for FEMSTORY, which offers young professional women a chance to match with an older professional for three months of mentoring.
Why mentoring? There have been plenty of times in my career where I wished I had a mentor to bounce stuff off of. When I found out one of my direct reports was harassing young women in our company and upper management’s response was to tell him not to be alone in the same room with them, leaving me out of it completely. When I stayed entirely too long at that company because I was afraid to leave. When I had to fire someone for the first time. When I found out that a male peer on my level was making 30% more than I was.
Why FEMSTORY? I would mentor someone not female, without question. But I want young women trying to find their footing to have someone who has their back, and I can be that person. I haven’t even faced much sexism in the workplace and yet half of the times that came to mind first when I thought about when I would have wanted support deal directly with it. I also liked the limited-time nature of their program; if I decided I wasn’t good at mentoring after all, I wouldn’t be letting someone down if I only did the minimum required time.
But I still didn’t know if I was qualified; while I’ve had direct reports for many years, there’s a difference between that and mentoring even though there’s also some overlap. I felt awkward assuming that someone I don’t know would want or value my advice.
Aside: Hello, readers. That also includes you. That's a huge part of why I am writing this blog: to become more comfortable with taking up space with my own opinions.
So what’s the short answer to “When am I qualified to mentor?” How about, “I am in a position that the potential mentee wants to reach, or have had experiences which are similar to what they are currently experiencing or will experience in the near future.” Mentoring also requires people skills: Patience. Active listening. Giving good feedback, delivered well. Being able to draw out what your mentee is not quite saying because they’re not sure about saying it. Giving advice without being overbearing. Being able to apply your experience to their situation but also discerning the differences.
I wonder what sustains a mentoring relationship long-term. Partly it must be a simple personal connection – do I enjoy talking to this person? Do I find it a good use of my time? I suspect it will have to do with a match-up of values as well, of having similar motivations and an aligned understanding of what is important to focus on. I’m looking forward to finding out.
FEMSTORY is looking for mentors (all genders) and mentees (women) for their next batch. Sign-ups end August 5th – check it out here: https://www.femstory.co/join-us