The guidance of a mentor can be valuable to women for a variety of reasons. As a high performing student, it was not until I entered the wider world of work that I began to come up against the challenges of being a woman in what is still largely a male-dominated business world.
It was then I saw that my talents couldn’t stand alone. What you say, who you say it to – even how you look and what you wear can be judged by anyone who is interested in your skills and abilities. When I was engaged, I had people ask me whether I’d be keeping my business once I was married. It’s alarming that any woman should be asked this question in the 21st Century, and yet, that is reality from my own experience. I’ve also found that this prejudice becomes even worse once you are pregnant and have children.
As I’ve progressed through my career I’ve found value in seeking the company of experienced women for support and guidance. A mentor relationship is a trusting space where you can feel free to ask the ‘dumb questions’ but it is also a space where you can feel free to express your innermost ambitions. Ruth Medd, founder and Chairman of Women on Boards once told me that if you want to be on boards you have to tell people. It seems obvious, but it wasn’t. However, your dreams are your own and no one else can make them, or break them for you.
Despite what I’ve already said, one of my most important early mentors was a man who was also my boss. He went out of his way to offer me interesting projects to ensure that I was challenged and engaged. It meant that there was a certain degree of trust, which is essential to any successful mentor relationship.
Mentoring relationships also have benefits for the mentor. One of the great rewards of being a mentor is seeing another person blossom and grow through that relationship. Everyone has something to offer from their own life experience that is of value when it is shared, particularly within a mentoring relationship.
But mentors don’t have all the answers and can’t make the decisions for you. Instead they can guide you and prompt you to think about things in a way that you may not have considered. In the end, you will have to make your own decisions and take responsibility for them.
A mentor can help both directly and indirectly.When facing a difficult decision, you might not have the chance to seek direct advice from the mentor, but once you’ve developed a relationship you can ask yourself, what would they do? How would they behave professionally and respectfully in this situation?
I have two final pieces of advice for those early in their careers.
1. Start early – build your networks and seek mentoring relationships. Don’t wait until you’re expecting a promotion to start thinking about how a mentor might help you.
2. Don’t wait for someone else to do this for you. Take responsibility for your own professional development.
There will be many outstanding opportunities available to you within your workplace, but you can’t sit back and wait for these opportunities to be provided to you. Seek them out and make the most of them.
WORDS BY DR MONIQUE BEEDLES, Managing Director – Teak Yew
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