As the American workplace evolves over time—from the modernization of office technology to open floorplans to, now, the rise in telework—one construct has stood the test of time. Professionals across varying industries have long celebrated the impact of mentorship on both personal and professional growth.
Mentorship, especially for women and other members of an underrepresented group, can help open doors for professionals just entering the workforce while also providing a fresh perspective for those who are further along in their careers (among many other benefits). So, why does the tried-and-true mentor/mentee relationship seem a bit antiquated to some? There are, unfortunately, many mentorship myths that still persist today and may hold people back from embarking in a new mentor/mentee relationship.
I recently spoke to several fellow women leaders in the industry who have been just as impacted by mentorship as I have in my own career. We put together a list of the top six mentorship myths in the hopes we can dispel them and encourage seasoned professionals to answer the call to mentorship, while also encouraging the next generation of industry leaders to consider the role that mentorship can play in their own careers.
Myth #1: Mentorship Is Time-Consuming
Fact: Mentorship Can Easily be Worked Into a Busy Schedule
For senior leaders with overflowing email inboxes and back-to-back meetings on their calendar, carving out the time to meet regularly with a mentee can seem daunting; which is why some avoid it altogether. However, in mine and my colleague’s experience, mentorship—particularly in the digital age—does not take up a great deal of time. The best part about mentorship is that mentors and mentees control the cadence and the frequency of meetings to best fit their needs and schedules.
In this digital age we’re living in, there are more ways than ever to stay connected and keep up with mentorship; which is particularly important today, as the pandemic has shrunk most of our social circles and interactions with those outside of our immediate households have dwindled. Unfortunately, feelings of isolation have crept in for many, particularly for working women who often shoulder the brunt of the “second shift” of unpaid labor in the home. That’s why mentorship, in today’s challenging landscape, is as critical to individual growth as it is to a business’ bottom line.
Myth #2: Mentors Should Always Choose Their Mentees
Fact: Mentees Can—and Should—Seek Out Mentors They Wish to Learn From
Mentorships can form in myriad ways, including pairings built organically over time or through formal, company-sponsored programs.
Individuals, regardless of age or tenure, should feel empowered to seek out their mentors on their own as they know, better than anyone, what they want to learn and who they want to learn it from (i.e., those who have the qualities they are looking to build themselves). By actively seeking mentors, individuals can also make themselves more visible as an “up and comer” in a company. While asking someone to be a mentor can be a bit intimidating, luckily, there are plenty of articles online that can be helpful to those who are considering mentorship for the first time.
Myth #3: Mentors Are Always Older Than Their Mentees
Fact: Mentors Should Be Selected Based on Their Expertise—Not Their Age
Although the more traditional definition of mentorship involves a more senior individual who uses his or her influence and experience to help with the advancement of a mentee, that is not the only form of mentorship that exists. In fact, mentorship can often take place without one even realizing it! Whether bouncing an idea off a colleague (peer-to-peer); asking a younger, more tech-savvy colleague for help with a new software program (reverse); or even soliciting advice from several individuals at once (group), there are many ways to benefit from mentorship that have nothing to do with age. A great mentor should aim to always provide constructive feedback, have a personal interest in a mentee’s career and serve as a strong role model—without having a “what’s in it for me” mentality. Trust me when I say that you’ll benefit just as much as your mentees do (see myth No. 6).
Myth #4: Mentor Relationships Must be Structured and Have Clearly Defined Goals and Objectives in Order to be Successful
Fact: Mentorship Does Not Have to be Rigid or Formal in Order to be Successful
Quick check-ins via text or email to let a mentor or mentee know you’re thinking of them can sometimes be just as impactful as an hourlong mentoring session with a formal agenda in place. As a new relationship builds over time, some formalities may naturally ease up as the mentor/mentee become more comfortable with one another. While it is typically suggested that a mentee at least come prepared with a quick list of topics or questions to be discussed—to ensure the time is productive—the mentor should not feel obligated to “know it all,” and the mentee should also bring their own views and experiences to the table as well. As long as both parties feel they are benefiting from the relationship, it is up to them how they wish to define “success” on an ongoing basis.
In the words of my colleague, Amy Daniel, “mentorship is not a forced process.” If it feels forced, the mentorship might not be the right fit.
Myth # 5: Mentors and Mentees Should Always be of the Same Gender and in the Same Line of Work
Fact: Diverse Mentorship Can Help Drive Innovation and Inclusive Workplace Cultures
While more and more women find themselves in leadership positions today, there is still much work to be done. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacting women—with one in four contemplating leaving the workforce altogether—mentorship and sponsorship from members of a dominant group to a historically underrepresented group has gained newfound importance. In addition, mentorship doesn’t always have to come from someone who is on a similar career journey. As I firmly believe, a good idea can come from anywhere, diverse mentor/mentee pairings can help open doors to new ways of thinking (and more often than not, truly innovative thinking doesn’t typically derive from brainstorming sessions of like-minded individuals only). It’s important that we retool how we think about mentorship and what a “typical” mentor/mentee pairing should look like.
Myth # 6: Mentees Are the Only Ones Who Benefit From Mentorship
Fact: Both Mentor and Mentee Should Benefit and Gain a Fresh Perspective
It should go without saying, but no matter how far we progress in our careers, we don’t know it all. For mentors, letting your guard down with mentees and sharing your successes and failures can help you find common ground with younger mentees. In addition, mentees can help provide a fresh perspective to mentors that they can apply to their leadership and coaching styles. Remember: we all have something to teach, and we all have something to learn.