Mentoring the Mentor: How Mentoring Can Help With the Heavy Lift of Gender Parity
Gender Parity 2030
VMware just announced that it aspires to Gender Parity by 2030. Investing in newly structured academies that will help balance the management staff to 50% female and instilling a practice that hires one woman for every man, VMware sees its future as a better representation of the talent in the population. It takes focus and regimen to make change. It can use some help from grass roots efforts, too.
Sanctioned mentoring programs can help balance gender and diversity, experienced with the novice, and boost cross-training from a birds-eye view. Participating in a company-structured mentoring program is valuable in that it structures defined growth based on parameterized input by the individual participants. We also see the benefits from seeking out mentors and mentees organically, looking around within your own community to develop the relationships that help you navigate through career trials and transitions. Unsurprisingly, mentors benefit nearly as much as the mentees.
Being a mentor is an opportunity, a gift and a chance to change the world a little bit to make it what you would like it to be. It is 20/20 vision born of being 20+ years ahead and recognizing that professional struggles of today will be triumphs of tomorrow. Reminding mentees of their successes of today when they question their abilities and/or when their confidence is waning can be rewarding. Malini Bhandaru, Senior Staff Open Source Engineer says, “I have seen my mentees become open source project committers and leads, writing technical books, launching their own company, landing promotions and more. It is their success, the fruits of their perseverance, knowledge, expertise, skills and more – but I had a ringside seat!” There is a joy in seeing someone else succeed. Recognizing a younger version of yourself, a young mother in graduate school juggling child care and a job – reassuring her that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that little failures are part of the journey. From the perch of wisdom, identifying the sparkles in someone else to help them identify their top strengths, can help them focus their efforts. These experiences also provide the opportunity to forgive yourself for youthful missteps and congratulate yourself for getting through rocky times. Malini relates, “One of my mentees remarked that a story I had shared about my response to my PhD helped her let go of bitterness. It liberated her and helped her to bring her best self despite her work context. Today she is happier, she blogs about her work, and she has been promoted.”
These relationships also provide more transparent conversation across the lines of generation, gender, disciplines and lifestyles, providing the mentor with insights into the aspirations and challenges of people unlike herself. Other benefits – you have grown your network and should you want to hire or grow your team, now you know a few more gems. Sometimes these same people connect you to jobs. Listening, relating and understanding others helps you to become a better manager and leader.
What do you want from your mentor?
Mentors can be official or simply role models. Observing what works and sometimes what doesn’t can be powerful even without the cadence of scheduled conversations. Connecting with mentors for advice on the technical or managerial, short term versus career-stride or simply connecting with someone unlike yourself to help illuminate alternate perspectives is called career expanding. “I have found it helpful to manage a portfolio of mentors. Some have had similar paths to mine, others quite diverse; some deeply technical while others were executive track,” adds Rhonda Edwards, Senior Open Source Marketing Manager.
Mentors can cover technical topics or even stand in as life coaches. “I found it very heartening to hear that Malini had gone through the same struggles of managing career and family with similar progress and setback patterns. It also helped me to hear strategies and tactics that Malini used to overcome bias and blatant sexism in her workplace,” remarks Nisha Kumar, Senior Open Source Engineer. She adds, “I’ve had mentors from various disciplines (marketing, engineering, business and non-profit) and life experiences (privileged, vulnerable, caregivers and non-caregivers). One thing I’d say here is take the advice that matches your situation and life goals. Not all the advice will be applicable.”
Mentoring is for everyone, but can be a powerful tool aiding in the balance of diversity and inclusion. Relating to a mentee who is traversing similar struggles is more easily done if you have experienced them yourself. Malini adds, “A mentor whom I highly respect, sagely remarked ‘it’s okay for kids to feel bored occasionally and learn to entertain themselves’ when I was juggling a demanding start-up and trying to be as good a mom as my own mother (cooking/cleaning/bedtime, soccer-mom runs, coaching school science olympiad and more). Feeling like you are the only one experiencing the frustration of not moving forward is common. Having a mentor with similar experiences helps level-set expectations and provide ideas on how to get unstuck. It also helps to readjust your mindset from short-term thinking to long-term thinking.
Mentoring could be quick too, by way of sharing pearls of wisdom. For instance, a mentor of Malini’s once remarked, “to be recognized, make sure you get a paper accepted at XYZ conference,” which indeed paved the way for future promotion! Occasionally a negative comment can be a powerful motivator too, incenting you to shore up skills in an area where you may have felt exposed.
Finding a Connection
Life is a journey, and the kind of mentor one needs at various points in life are different. The person helping you on your cloud journey will be very different from one helping you launch a business or apply for a government grant or provide you feedback on your resume. Each is helping you in a different way. Whether by way of formal introduction through a corporate sponsored mentoring program or simply by way of a tap on the shoulder of a role model, the process merits the time and emotional investment in a mentee. Mentors should be always on the lookout for those that might benefit from their wisdom and experience not forgetting that the rewards are greater than the efforts required. Often times it is a way to pay it forward!