Women’s Leadership and Mentoring

At my company, the WIN organization (I mentioned in my last post), is preparing to launch a program for women interested in mentorship (either as a mentor or as a mentee).  A survey was sent out to the 300 members in the organization to gauge the interest on mentoring and the type of mentoring desired.  This included mentoring on work-life-balance, exercising leadership, career development, etc.  In addition, the types of delivery method, one on one sessions, group mentoring, or situational (ad-hoc) help.

I believe the difficult part of the mentoring process, will be to match up mentors with mentees.  Research suggests that informal mentoring, the natural coming together of the mentor and mentee has greater benefits than formal mentoring, or assigned pairings (Cotton & Ragins, 1999).  Any kind of mentoring, whether formal or informal, has its benefits: personal growth, development, learning, etc. assuming its a good relationship of course.  I’ve been part of a formal mentor relationship at a previous company, and although I gained knowledge and value out of the experience, it did not leave a life altering impact on me.

As I look back and think of some of the best mentors I’ve had, I realize they were “accidental”.  One of my best mentors was Laurie L., a J.D. that I worked with at a defense company.  I highly doubt she considered herself one, but I wanted to emulate her qualities and she was always willing to help and teach me.  I learned how to negotiate watching her handle suppliers over the phone.  I learned how to stand my ground as a female.  I also learned how to have fun at work because of her.  I still see her a few times a year, but have never told her that I considered her my mentor; I should next time we go out for drinks.

I recently requested a meeting with a professor who is in a different department than the one I’m studying in, to ask her questions on Asian American studies and to see if she knew of students I could interview.  However, in our first meeting the two of us got caught up in a passionate discussion on Asian American stereotypes and its impact on society.  By the end of the meeting, I was enthralled by this professor and at my own response to her inquiries.  I left the meeting wanting her to be my mentor, and forgot about asking for students to interview.  Now the trick was how to ask her?

I ended up dropping off a hand-written thank you note (see Randy Pausch) the very next day after her office hours, but she happened to be there.  So I got a chance to get some live feedback: she echoed my sentiments on our great conversation and offered her support.  She said that she’d be very happy to help me in my research in any way she can whether by introducing me to other people, suggesting materials or events, etc. or just talking.  I felt it too soon to explicitly say “hey want to be my mentor?” and instead began following up with her by email every so often, to let her know I wanted to cultivate this relationship.  I’ll likely see her more frequently in April, as she invited me to join her Asian American Social Movements class over the next few weeks which I gladly accepted.

So although I think its great that my company is finding a way to offer a mentoring program, I am going to pursue a different kind of mentor, one that I believe will leave a lasting impression on me and my development.

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