When you take stock of the business relationships in your life, do any of them qualify as mentors? For some businesswomen, influential mentors seem to flow seamlessly in and out of their lives.
"I have been lucky to have had strong women leaders to look up to and call to check in with during every phase of my
8 tips for being a good mentor
life," said Jenn Dice, government affairs director for the International Mountain Biking Association. "Just having that female support network is invaluable because you usually have feedback and someone to cheer you on."
For some, however, the appearance of mentors has been infrequent at best throughout their careers. Are they missing out? Perhaps. Because of their experience and wisdom, effective mentors can help others better hone their career directions, make solid decisions in the workplace, and also learn when to move on.
Dice said her mentors actually helped make her bolder in business. "They gave me the lighter fluid to move forward, get things done, and face the tough questions: Is that right? Has that been done? What are the boys going to think of this?" she said.
How do people find mentors? While most companies don't have formal mentoring programs, mentors are still typically found in the workplace. "In most cases, I've worked for them and then left the company and we started a mentoring relationship," said Audrey Hicks, vice president of finance and administration for Outdoor Research. "They know you in a way others don't. Conversely, I've also fallen into mentoring relationships with people that have worked for me."
Some women in business have also found it beneficial to seek out mentors appropriate to their needs. Prior to her work in the bike industry, Dice said she would actually approach people that she admired -- such as those she had seen giving a public speech or participating in a committee meeting -- to work with her as a mentor. "I would ask them out on coffee dates and do informational interviews or ask for advice in business. It's amazing how many high-powered, influential women would be willing to help," she said.
The key to courting a mentor is to keep it light and informal without any type of regular time commitment. Women in business are busy. "I was not bugging them to hold my hand," said Dice, "and I'd mainly follow up with them in their slow season." Still, she advises those searching for mentors not to be timid -- many potential mentors do want to help. "Women sense when other, younger women may be struggling or are insecure. They've gone through that for so many years that they want to help you leap to the front and not underestimate yourself," said Dice.
Also consider that the mentor might just benefit from your relationship as well. In fact, Hicks said that mentoring isn't just a one-way street. "I think it really benefits both parties," she said, "and in a good mentoring relation you are pushing each other. I have one mentor who now calls me and asks me for advice."
Additionally, mentoring can also benefit your personal life when it addresses issues that transcend the workplace. "Mentoring is more than career coaching," added Hicks. "A mentor can get involved in your life because sometimes what's happening on the job is simply a symptom of what's happening in your life. And that's what a good mentor does -- challenges you to see your world in a different way. The only way to learn more is to get that outside input."
This monthly column, a partnership between OIWC and SNEWS®, aims to address the issues that concern women in the industry most -- anything that is controversial, topical or newsworthy relating to women and the outdoors. The goal is to help, educate, inspire and grow. We welcome your ideas, gripes, thoughts and comments. Bring it on. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erinn Morgan is an award-winning magazine and freelance journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic Adventure, The New York Times, Outside and Mountain Bike. She is also the author of the recently released book, "Picture Yourself Going Green."