Mentoring women and women mentoring


By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Mentoring for men is paying attention to strategy, politicking and developing the skills necessary to succeed in their chosen professions. Up until a few years ago, mentoring for women meant something entirely different.

It meant shopping, styling hair, preparing meals, keeping a good home, finding a successful husband, raising healthy children . . . these are the skills that mothers have taught their daughters for centuries. True, young men do receive coaching on how to dress for success, and even how to choose a wife suitable to their station in life, but these are just “business success” strategies.

Now, business mentoring is coming of age for women. Older women are learning to mentor younger women, and younger women are recognizing the value of receiving mentoring from successful women.

There is a wide range of female mentoring models to choose from. Women are not only working in all fields, but they have moved up the ladder in those fields. Now more women than men are in colleges and universities around the country. More women than men are graduating from law school for example. This is strong evidence that mentoring and role modeling by women has lead to more young women and girls believing in possibilities that their great-great-grandmothers only dreamed about.

But despite the similarities, mentoring for women is a different process than it is for men.

Although mentoring for women has a hierarchical quality women tend to highly value their relationships, at all levels of the hierarchy. Women mentors encourage younger, less skilled women to speak up and contribute to the whole. They tend to recognize abilities even if a young woman has not been with the company very long.

As whole-brained thinkers women can see both the value in the process of arriving at the goal as well as the actual achievement of the goal. The process teaches a woman about herself and her relationship with her co-workers, subordinates, boss or mentor.

My research has found that, for women, getting to know oneself in relationship to others is the foundation of life. Mentoring for them is about developing relationships and about learning as much from the protege as from the mentor. It’s a collaboration, a dialogue, an evolving and developing process leading both women into a deeper relationship as well as a more advanced stage of life.

True, there are concrete skills to learn too. Women, just as men need to be wise to the politics of corporate life. They need to have professional credentials and skills if they want a good salary or to achieve that promotion. It’s just that women take things personally so those personal needs must be addressed.

If there is no woman to mentor her, no mentor to relate to her personally, a young woman may hold herself back from accomplishment because of lack of confidence or lack of a mirror to show her she’s on the right track. That’s why being a mentor, or finding one, can be the key to success.

So just what does a mentor teach? Mentoring can cover the gamut of female behavior from dressing for success to litigation tactics to canning vegetables to dating etiquette. If you are considering mentoring, teach what you know and don’t limit it to the traditional male arena. Your young protégé needs to learn how to be a woman, not just an attorney, or an artist.

You don’t even have to know that much about her interests to be a good mentor. What you need to know is how to encourage her to be the best she can be, how to believe in herself. However, young women are still in great need of learning about all of the career possibilities there are in the world, so if you have a unique specialty, tout it. Let young women know that there are new and exciting career realms to explore.

It’s an exciting new century that we are entering and women are blazing the way. More women than ever will own businesses by the year 2000, a demonstration that women’s power is exploding. Those of you who have laid the foundation for this growth owe it to the younger generations to teach them what you know. The creativity must keep flowing. Women mentoring and mentoring women will undoubtedly insure a strong female leadership in the 21st century.