Mentoring Gets a Makeover

Susan Hall

I wrote recently about research from the Center for Work-Life Policy, which found sponsorship key to many women's rise to the executive suite. Or rather that the lack of sponsorship holds many women back.


Center President Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote that a sponsor is far different than a mentor:

Mentors proffer friendly advice. Sponsors pull you up to the next level.

A commenter on my blog post said of sponsorship:

... it doesn't take into account the itinerant nature of modern careers: What happens when a sponsor leaves for another position or retires? What happens when the woman changes companies?

In another piece at Harvard Business Review, meanwhile, writer Amy Gallo looks at how mentoring has changed. It's no longer simply about an older executive counseling a young upstart, but more like networking, she says. (That should help dispel some of the uneasiness between men and women that somehow sexual favors are involved.) She writes:

The traditional mentor-mentee relationship is not necessarily a thing of the past, but it's no longer the standard. Now, there are many ways to get the information and guidance you need.

She cites four myths about mentors that apply to both genders:

  1. You have to find one perfect mentor. No, it can be many people over time. It's more like your network of people who have your best interests at heart. This can include your spouse.
  2. Mentoring is a formal long-term relationship. It can be as informal as saying, "I'd really like to get your advice on something."
  3. Mentoring is for junior people. There are many times during a career, especially during transitions, when you might need counsel. In one of Gallo's examples, a man met someone on a plane at a time when he didn't realize he had issues to think through.
  4. Mentoring is something more experienced people do out of the goodness of their hearts. Gallo says there must be something in it for both parties, even if what you offer is an outside perspective or offer of future help.


In this post on the traits of senior executive women, SAP executive Dr. Patricia Fletcher says that many such women have developed their own personal "board of directors" to keep them focused and on track. And they don't buy into the superficial concept of networking that is "schmoozing." She is quoted as saying:

They don't like cocktail parties as a means for building a network. They establish very deep, meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial and are based on common bonds and shared experiences.

When talking about mentors, the question always arises: How do you find one? I think this more network-oriented approach takes off some of the pressure to find "the one." It can be a matter of helping you find the help you need for the task at hand. This post at delves into some qualities to look for in a mentor. And in another of Gallo's examples, a woman in a new job figured out what she needed to learn to be successful and who was best able to help. Then she asked him directly. What a concept.

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