Madeline Albright once said that there was a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other out.
Sheryl Sandberg suggested that instead of seeking out a woman to mentor you, your performance excellence and professionalism would naturally attract a leader to take you under their wing. You become an apprentice or protégé’, by earning it.
True to most things in life, sucess in the workplace is not done on an island.
What needs to occur is the intentional encouragement and support of our fellow ladies as they reveal themselves to their own in the workplace.
You see, this year I had the opportunity to be a mentor and it brought about growth, professionalism and sisterhood that I did not expect.
Disclaimer: I write this not to reveal something that hasn’t been said before, but to document my experience of being a mentor and the enourmous benefits I got out of helping a woman see more in herself.
This began at my annual review with my director, who acknowledged I had done a good job showing the new lady in our department a thing or two, suggesting that I take it a little further. She included this in my major business objectives for the year; measurable and potentially luractive benchmarks in the business world.
I didn’t ask what that looked like, I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know how to do more in this arena. Truth was, I had read Sandberg’s Lean In and I was a Women’s Studies major for crying out loud, but I hadn’t had an opportunity like this before. You see, my director saw something in me she wanted to draw out.
My approach was simple, I figured if I learned something new, I would bring this girl into the fold. I wanted to begin by showing her I didn’t have it all figured out and that was okay. If I had a small vulnerability if you will, it would be easier for her to take my guidance or suggestions. So as I attended conference sessions she wasn’t able to join, I saved a packet for her. I took notes to share and made mental notes of anything I could use to relate to her and what project she was tackling. If I taught myself a new trick or animation/design technique, I made a point of demo-ing it for her and allowed her to see my trials.
After participating as a moderator in one of the conference discussions, I decided I wanted to host my own in the future at a different event. I took any opportunity I could to include her as my co-speaker in the proposals.
She was horrified. “What on earth do I know that anyone would want to hear or learn from?” she asked. And it was my job and joy to remind her.
I pointed out her idea to get our department a Snapchat profile. The revolutionary consequences of such inspired me to develop engagment activities that never had dawned on me before. And might I mention, a revolutionary new personal past time; I just love those filters! The title of our session was to be called Socializing your L&D Department and it wasn’t organically mine. She developed content for a class in nothing but memes. Yes, you heard correctly, memes, and it was kickass, if I do say so myself. This doesn’t mean it lacked solid content or andragogy. It was intentional and I was proud. The fact that I found her impressive to the extent I was willing to have her join me on stage to give a talk, seemed to give her some self respect.
All of this, I might add was authentic and the motivation became less about my goals and more about her belief in her abilities. The “what’s in in for me” was a rising hunger to learn more for my own good so that I could share it with her. I don’t recall having this in the workplace for myself, but boy had I, I would have been unstoppable.
You see, women have an ongoing argument going on at all times in their heads as they approach career. On one hand, we tell ourselves to be stoic with a twist of tough and on the other, we try to remember to be kind with a dash of agreeable.
We could talk ourselves out of anything with that strict dichotomy and it doesn’t help that we have silent expectations placed upon us by our gender counterparts. On any given day, if you could read the minds of most women at your office, you might hear the following:
“I should interrupt because they have this all wrong and we’re going to waste a lot of time in this meeting, but I don’t want to talk over he or she, it’s rude.”
“I should have gotten at least a 3% raise but I guess it was all the company could do and I will let it go.”
“I want to sit closer to the phone during this call but they’re all huddled around it and that means I am not welcome.”
“Should I have worn this?”
“Maybe I look too sexy for this budget meeting.”
“Do I email my suggestions to the team or should I wait and hope Tom does it?”
And the list could go on for longer, as you can imagine.
This isn’t to say men don’t have their hesitations at work, but there is a special place for doubt in a woman’s business world and it certainly can feel like hell.
My job as a mentor wasn’t meant to boost my colleague’s ego, either. It might have been a nice consolation prize, but what I saw happen was a mimic of my ambition.
I developed an online portfolio of my work and she followed to build her own. I showed her my posts, projects and asked her opinon on the design. I began relying on her artistic eye to check mine. This respect that we developed nutured a deep sisterhood that brought us to a place of mutual concern and friendship.
Each and everytime I failed at something, I shared it with her. Everytime she was frustrated, I let her talk it out and reminded her of what she brought to our department. If she was discouraged, I acknowledged it but tried to help her set goals to build confidence. Her willingness to listen, follow through and try new things was a reward I could never quantify.
To help someone see more in themselves than they could ever see alone brings about immeaurable richness.
This to me, is the foundation of mentorship. It isn’t about me knowing more than you.
It’s about you believing more for you and in you, through me.
As I hugged my mentee the other day for the last time at the same company, tears spoke of the meaningful place she has in my heart and I believe where I sit in her’s, as neither of us were unmoved.
In my advancement and insatiable quest to learn and do more, I recently took on a new position. This will end our relationsip as coworkers, but not as partners in this growing world where we need to stick together.
And the good news is, neither of us are going to hell.
For more information on being a mentor, click the button below.
To watch a great interview with Sheryl Sandberg and Norah O’Donnell of 60 Minutes, press the following: