Before I became a business owner, I was working in an industry where I had the opportunity to manage a LOT of young women. I not only learned how to be extremely diplomatic, but I also realized over time that many of these girls considered me to be a role model. At first I was like, “Me?? No,way, they can’t really be looking up to me!” But they were, and suddenly I began to feel very responsible. I had never considered the idea of mentoring young women before.
Because no one had mentored me.
Hell, there was no one to mentor me. When I was learning the ropes and stumbling along through business, there really weren’t many women around to admire. Most of the women I knew were terrifying, micromanagers or didn’t take the business world all that seriously. I carved my own path by deciding that no matter what I did, I would work my ass off. It was a pretty solid decision to make, considering I lacked so much direction.
Put the Claws Away
It used to be every woman for herself. You’ve been around for years and suddenly that new, ambitious girl shows up in your department. Maybe you’d act cold and unwelcoming. Or maybe you’d be worried that she’d make you look bad and so you’d try to do the same to her. But not anymore, instead you can help her. Mentor her even.
Mentoring young women at work can:
- Make you look good because you work well with others
- Make you look good because there is great work coming from your department
- Show everyone else that you’re confident in your work
- Create one of your biggest supporters (her!)
Empowering another woman doesn’t take your power away. If anything it helps grow and foster your talents as a leader. Your superiors will take note of how you interact with others, including other women. If you get along just fine with men at work and are noticeably cold (trust me, if you are, it’s noticeable) to other women, it will reflect poorly on you. It could even be what prevents you from getting that promotion you want.
Collaboration Vs. Competition
Women can do great things when they work together. I’m never worried about helping out another woman in fear she might surpass me. When you create a relationship based on respect and are willing to jump in and help them, amazing things happen. Maybe next time she’s swamped or has someone she doesn’t mesh with, she’ll pass on some clients to me, or maybe she’ll dive in if I need it. There are enough clients, customers, readers, etc. to go around and collaborating fosters a sort of trust that brings on even more.
Quite simply: we’re stronger, better and more efficient when we work together.
What does women collaborating with each other have to do with mentoring young women? Everything. Because we’re showing them what to do with our actions rather than just telling them with our words.
Lead by Example
You may have no idea that you’re even doing it, but you could be mentoring young women, too. In my last position I would always forward on resumes of hard working girls that worked for me. If one of them wanted to chat, ask me career questions or reach out to me for any reason, I was there. I listened and did my best to answer the questions both honestly and as knowledgeably as possible. It never occurred to me that this was mentoring. It was just something I did, and wanted to do.
Make helping other women a priority, volunteer, put in a good word– these are all ways you can lead by example. For me, when I started my business I decided that I’d only take on female interns, hire female employees and help create opportunities for women.
I decided to be the woman that I never had
I want to give back to these girls and let them know that if they are willing to work hard, I’ll be in their corner.
It’s also important to make sure your actions are in line with your words. If you tell a young woman it’s not okay to do something and then you go and do it– you’ve not only discredited yourself, but now you’ve confused a young girl who essentially wants to be like you.
Just because you’re mentoring young women doesn’t mean you have to be perfect all the time. In fact, the more you expose your flaws, the more admired you will be. I know, I think it’s weird too and doesn’t make sense at all. A couple of weeks ago when I shared about how my business partnership failed, I was so afraid some of the girls that look up to me would think I was no longer worth admiring. I was wrong. I received comments and messages of support from so many of them that it literally brought me to tears.
As women I think it’s twice as hard to accept personal failure and it’s so natural for us to want to sweep it under the carpet and just continue acting as through nothing is wrong. We aren’t perfect, we’re perfectly imperfect and we need to show these young women that it’s okay. That failure happens and flaws are real and the best thing we can do is learn from our mistakes and move on.
Yes, mentees will come to you for advice. They will ask you questions and want to know how you do what you do, and will consider your words to be gold nuggets of wisdom to tuck away and save for later. Make sure that you reach back now and then. Yes, you may be busy, but this kind of relationship can’t just be coming from a young girl and you thinking your answers are enough. They will be afraid to bug you, so it’s up to you to make time to reach out to them as well. Knowing that you’re taking time for them without them asking will make them feel valued and it will strengthen the relationship.
When you’re mentoring young women you probably don’t think of it as benefiting you, especially not as much as it is them, but you’re wrong. They can become great friends, networking opportunities or even a connection to another company that you’d like to get into. They expand your network and will send business and people your way. I can’t tell you how much business I get because of the girls I’ve worked with. They mention me when talking to someone else and bam! I’m getting a phone call. You can’t buy word of mouth that good!
I learn things from these girls all the time. They amaze me! They keep me in tune with trends, update me on things I might be missing out on, give me thoughts to contemplate and remind me of how beautiful the journey is.
These women are our future and we’re responsible for teaching them how to help each other and eventually be mentors themselves.
Did you/do you have a mentor? What do you think is important about mentoring young women?
Image Credit: Shutterstock