Being an up-and-comer can be hard, no matter what career or industry you're starting in. You know what helps? A mentor to show you the ropes and teach you to navigate the professional world by sharing what they learned the hard way. This is someone of some expertise or experience, generally a little older, who helps the new gal gain her feet. It's a relationship that can be formal or closer to a kind of friendship, and it can do a lot for both parties.
When it comes to men mentoring women? The benefits are clear.
A system of mentoring can turn a business from just some company to an outright institution. Why? Because everyone coming up is going to hear how well young professionals are treated there, how their career goals and aspirations are fostered in an environment of inclusiveness and encouragement, rather than competition. This is an even bigger asset when it comes to finding, hiring and keeping young professional women.
Let's face it: many of our potential employers have a long way to go when it comes to that inclusiveness. And who is in the best position to change that good old boy's club mentality? Upper-level male execs.
The very employees who benefited from that entrenched young white male favoritism can reach out and back to the next generation, leading change by example. Mentoring has always been important as a way to help the young learn from the older. With today's pushes for change coming from all directions, men mentoring women is about more than fostering the career of the individual. It represents and enacts gigantic shifts in the corporate cultural mindset overall.
Up until very recently, gender wasn't something that factored into most men's daily considerations. They worried about their performance reviews, the strength of their resume and the quality of their professional wardrobe. What they didn't worry about was whether or not being a guy was going to work against them somewhere. And that lack of concern can be empowering for a young or inexperienced woman to learn.
Men are coming from an entrenched and often entitled position. They can show women how the wheels have moved in the past and might still be moving in some places. And these tips for navigating each wicket? They're not just for your current position but potentially for the length of your career. A good mentor might be able to teach you a bit about everything from negotiating pay to planning for retirement.
For men who foster junior female professionals in their careers, they get a chance to connect with (and learn from) a large percentage of the new rising generation in the workforce. Getting to know someone with a different world view and background is how allies are made.
Learning how the other "side" thinks can cross a lot of divides. This is true for both men and women, mentors and mentees. Things stop being about Us vs. Them when both the older and the newer generations no longer view each other through a long, age-biased lens. A culture of mentoring creates a team mentality that can trickle down to the simplest aspects of daily office life.
Older execs understand the value of the connection with a good mentor. By taking the time to get to know, encourage and inform younger professional women, that exec is also teaching her how to be a mentor herself, by example. And women smart enough to seek out mentors will be smart enough to become good ones themselves.
If all of a company's execs are male, that can work against it. Women want companies that embrace diversity, places where they can rise up. But. If a company's execs are male but also mentoring a diverse group of young professionals? That tells the world this company really cares about adapting, changing and moving forward.
When seeking either a mentor or a mentee, don't be afraid to ask close connections to introduce you or to reach out yourself.
Pay attention to who is coming up behind you and who has already paved the way. Know a bit about them when you make contact, and be honest in why you'd like to form a connection.
Just make that connection, and leave the door open. If the fit and the timing are right, it'll happen. If not? Move on.
Meeting for drinks or dinner might seem a little too casual. Try lunch, try coffee. Keep it in everyone's comfort zones.
This person could remind you a little of you when you were her age. Or he could seem like someone with a lot of experience to share. But if your mentor is heading in or from a direction you're not familiar with or interested in, then there's a better fit out there, for both of you.
So what if you're not a good fit? Don't be afraid to point the new gal in the direction of a contemporary with more knowledge. Ask your current mentor if he can recommend someone who can help you address a particular query. This is about helping each other — and sometimes helping means moving on.
The main point of mentoring is that when different people work together toward a common goal — growth — each person stands to learn a lot. By taking a younger woman under his tutelage, a man can share his knowledge and also learn how to be a true ally.
A younger woman with an older man for a mentor will benefit from his experience, of course, but she also has a chance to share her own worldview and create that ally. Because the good old boy network is getting an upgrade.
Heather Adams is a creative content & copy writer with a focus on business storytelling.