My journey to success has just begun. Maybe this journey began subconsciously, with the mind refusing to acknowledge its existence and yet, contributing to a percentage of my current success. I am a strong believer in having a life purpose and a dream. A big DREAM. Finding this purpose may be clear to many but is a daunting odyssey for me. Some days I wake up with a clear vision of my direction in life, and then other days, my sand castle crumbles before my eyes. Can you relate to occasional self-doubt? Do you sometimes wish you could stay in your comfort zone and still succeed in life? Who set standards for success anyway? What is success to you? This is why mentorship is important.
Getting a female engineer as a mentor has been an immense challenge due to the low number of practicing female engineers. Even with these few engineers, they were not visible to me since no one talks about them or their work. Though I have been disappointed by some, through other mentors, I have learnt lessons about mentorship itself. Although the roles of mentors and how to find them is always changing, the fundamentals of mentorship have not changed. The question then becomes “How do we positively influence young women in Science and Engineering to find effective mentors”?
We all have a relationship with a person in our life or career path that is more experienced and knowledgeable. Mentorship is when those with experience use their knowledge and expertise to guide those with less expertise in a certain field. But, let us not make mentorship about a series of the buzzwords. Indulge me as I explain these aspects of mentorship learnt from personal experience.
How do I find a mentor? As I mentioned, to achieve our dreams and ambitions, we must have a clear goal and a step by step course of action in order to reach these goals. A few years ago, finding mentors was made easy by certain schools, colleges and universities which provided mentorship programs that were a much-needed guide. Such models are not common anymore and if they are present, you could be asked to pay for the service. It is, therefore, your personal initiative to first identify a suitable mentor(s) and then approach them with a particular task that would require their unique expertise. Please note that approaching someone and saying I want you to be my mentor is not considered “mentorship etiquette” nowadays.
How do you approach a mentor without actually asking them to be one? I would pose this question to you: do you walk up to anyone and ask them to be your friend? NO! On meeting a person for the first time, it is quite difficult to glean enough information to determine their potential as a mentor. An example of how I approached a mentor on AWSE is this. “I like that there is a program for mentoring women, are you part of AWSE? Tell me more about it. How can I join or participate…” Because of the passion with which she replied, I was drawn to her as a mentor in matters female engineer and leader. We then started chatting about related topics and before you know it, she invited me as an author for a blog that she was about to set up.
Not being a stranger to your mentor, familiarizing yourself with who they are enables you to determine if they would be a suitable mentor. In the age of social media, it is easy to view their profiles online, read their books/works (I literally stalk their work!). This also gives insight on what they like, what they do and could be a great way of starting a conversation. If you have found an appropriate match, it is then up to you to ensure that the mentor knows who you are (of course, they have also gone through your online profile!). What can you tell them about yourself that cannot be found online? Do you have a goal/dream? Are your interests similar? Are you doing something to achieve that dream?
Your mentor does not have to be a CEO, a person who has 2 years’ experience in your area of interest is just as suitable. Remember, a mentor is a guide, and as such should have more knowledge than you in the specific area.
What do you expect?
Documenting your expectations ensures accountability. I have found that some mentors do not guide to their full potential simply because there was no clear direction on the needs of the mentee from the start. Sometimes emails would go for long periods without response, causing my laxity on my tasks. This lethargy is human; however, it is important to remember the goal you are pushing to achieve. Note down short and achievable goals and allocate specific time for their achievement. Make sure that this list is also given to your mentor to ensure that your roles are defined clearly at the beginning of your relationship. Get yourself a notebook dedicated to your mentorship program! Commit yourself to being a dedicated mentee to extract the most out of this mentorship relationship.
At times you need more than one mentor because there are many aspects of your career life that need guidance and, therefore, having multiple mentors is acceptable. The advantage of having multiple mentors is that you get different views on critical decisions and also, it provides a fresh perspective that every step of your career life needs.
Once you have the plan, your role as a mentee should be to ensure that you achieve your set goals. Remember that the mentor is supposed to proffer advice according to your situation. Don’t sit and wait for your mentor to ask on your progress or if you need help. Being pro-active is a positive trait for a mentee but don’t be too pushy. When it comes to connecting and getting a mentor, basic etiquette is required to ensure their interest in helping you. It helps to set up a regular appointment in order to follow up with the mentor.
Despite the fact that you are the one being helped, the mentor also learns from the mentee, a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Overall, ensure that you understand the relationship you have, and work to achieve your goals.
The top traits of a good mentee for me would be flexibility and personal commitment to the mentorship over an extended period. You should be flexible and take the time to grow the mentorship and communicate effectively in order to reap from the mentorship.
Growing the relationship
Is your mentor your friend? Having a mentor who is also a friend enables a broader perspective on mentorship. Apart from the career development, you also get to learn about other aspects attached to the career such as life and family. However, even with friendship, it is important to understand the boundaries of the mentor-mentee relationship. Respect is key. Ensure that you are actually gaining experience from your mentor. It is also important to ensure that the friendship does not make you a burden to the mentor. Do not forget what your mentor is to you. As a female in Engineering, I have approached both male and female mentors. I find female mentors more fulfilling as a woman because the boundaries of friendship can stretch a little more. This allows me to learn more widely in life, in general, than just about my career.
Having known these basic components of mentorship I believe you can have an effective one. A good mentor is your ally, who supports you through decision making and dealing with workplace challenges or even when you are unsure on the future of your career.
Watch out for the next discussion where we talk about how to find the perfect mentor, where to find them and a peek into some great mentor – mentee relationships.
Get yourself a mentor if you have none and share the experience with us
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~ Isaac Newton