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Mentoring: women learning from others. (Career Management).

* Informal Mentoring

* Formal Mentoring

* Different Approaches to Mentoring

* Women and Mentoring

* Coaching

* Your Mentor is not your Boss

* Help is all Around You

Women's attitudes about mentoring vary widely. Some want informal relationships and detest the word "mentoring." Others want formal programs established by big organizations aimed at identifying female stars and pushing them to the top as quickly as possible. Whether the word is used or not, mentoring "...begins with affinity between two people, but the focus remains around work It's a magical thing that happens when one person sees something in another person and wants to help that person grow." (1)

Informal mentoring

In Learning from Other Women, Carolyn Duff interviewed many women who said they did not like the word "mentor." It seemed to require more commitment than people were willing to promise to give. Often people gave a lot of time, but they wanted the "desire to do it" to evolve naturally because the relationship was working well.

Some women "... feel more comfortable just letting their relationship happen, without labels and without any formal agenda...over the years they...offer 'honesty, integrity, candor, love, caring and respect--those things that make life work... .Women cannot separate friendship from mentoring, ...and many "resist the word mentor in favor of the word friend." (1)

One woman who had learned much from another "was adamant about not using the word. 'What if I referred to her as my mentor and she hadn't ever considered that we had a mentoring relationship?'... I would feel I'd been rude and overstepped my boundaries. I would be so embarrassed!'" (1)

An experienced woman described herself as a short-term mentor: I cannot be your permanent or exclusive sounding board, I want to be available to other women who seek my help, and I am busy. However, if you want to stop by and let me know how your plan is working and how your life is progressing, I welcome your visit." (1)

As the one seeking advice, "you may be more at ease and authentic in an informal, unnamed connection where you can ask for specific guidance when you need insight or direction without the ongoing obligation of a committed mentoring relationsip." (1)

It's also possible to ...have casual, informal mentors within your profession whom you see or talk with only two or three times a year, but from whom you learn something each time and come away enriched." (1)

Formal mentoring

However, some places and some women wish for a much more formal, planned approach to mentoring. "Often large corporations have accelerated development programs that target primarily high-potential women for an extremely structured relationship with a mentor that provides career planning, goal setting, evaluations, and excellent opportunities for visibility throughout the company....Cindy Furst was a member of the 1993 class of the Accelerated Development Program at Hewlett Packard Company, which had a total of 24 women. She is an advocate for what determined, talented women can learn through the goal setting, coaching, and exposure they receive in Hewlett-Packard's corporate wide program. 'It is a formal situation, she said, but one that is invaluable in terms of professional growth and opportunity. The intent is clear, and the work expected of both the protege and the mentor is well spelled out."' (1)

Carly Fiorina, the new CEO of Hewlett Packard, is the first woman to head a Dow 30 company.... The former CEO, Lewis E. Platt's, 'focus on hiring women paved the way for Fiorina and other women to reach the top management at HP." (2)

Fiorina's former organization, Lucent Technologies, Inc., promotes "the same sort of mentoring relationships that other big companies do to foster women's advancement, and it sustains some 30 women's employee networks." Since Lucent "spun off three years ago from AT&T it has been caught up in such fierce competition.. it hasn't had time to install a glass ceiling." (3)

John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company in Boston has a pilot mentoring program with two objectives: "(1) the development of individuals and (2) the development of diversity within the company. The pairs are cross-matched for race and gender.... It's a way of facilitating growth of relationships that would not have happened spontaneously... and giving mentors opportunities to learn from new populations while honing their own management and counseling skills." (1)

"Becoming part of a formal mentoring program does not mean you cannot also learn from friends, bosses, no-name relationships, or informal connections. What is important is that you reach out to other people who have the knowledge and the resources to support your goals and get you where you want to go."'

One of the problems with formal mentoring programs is that the women who are not in them resent those who are. One way to defuse the resentment of your mentoring advantage that some of your peers may feel is to include them. Talk about how your mentoring arrangement works and share some of the information and tips you are getting from your mentor." (1)

How to ask for help and benefit from your mentor

Some women are hesitant to ask others to be mentors because they don't want to be turned down. If you ask for help on a particular project or on a specific problem, it can be a one-time event with no obligations on either side. But occasionally the chemistry will be right, a friendship will evolve, and both women can continue to help each other.

"The opposite of a woman who fears being rejected is the woman who assumes that she has the right to be mentored.... Something you demand is not a gift. There are women who will withhold what they could share if they feel they are being used for their accomplishments rather than appreciated for their abilities and recognized for the dedication and the struggle that led to their achievements." (1)

You need to do preliminary work before you approach a mentor or even someone you think will help you on a onetime basis. "It doesn't help your mentor focus on your needs when you just say, 'What do you think I should go after next?' Instead, offer some alternative possibilities you have identified for your next move and ask her what she thinks about the options.

If a training workshop on designed experiments Is being held in Chicago and another on project management is being offered at the same time in San Francisco. ask her which she thinks best fits with your talents, interests, and long-term goals. Be prepared to give her a copy of the training announcements and all information you have gathered about the selection process and funding for the training. The more she knows, the better she can help you explore your options and guide your decisions." (1) Just as some bosses require that you come with three recommended solutions to any problem you bring them, go to your mentors with ideas about what you want to do, how you might do it, and then listen carefully to their recommendations.

Be polite; don't overstep the bounds of proper etiquette in a mentoring relationship. "Your mentor is not responsible for getting you a promotion, nor should she be. Her function is to coach and guide you in your career and life development so that you are prepared to benefit from opportunities when they present themselves." (1)

Think carefully about whom you would approach for help and use their and your time wisely. A mentor needs .... to be someone who understands how the organization works and what qualities get someone ahead." (1) "If she can only warn you about pitfalls and barriers, not offer solutions, she is not helping you. You don't need another person with whom to commiserate about your problems." (1)

Advantages of having women mentors

Some women prefer to have other women as mentors. "Caring committed woman-to woman mentoring will consider the wholeness of a woman's life, a life that includes work, family, love, community, and spiritual well being. "'One woman said, "I am comfortable going to Anna without the perfectly formed questions I prepare for my male mentors. She lets me be sad and scared and excited and hopeful--all the while helping me find within myself the grounding I needed for the new venture.... Another woman said, "While men are developing sensitivity to feelings at work, some of us still feel uncertain about bringing feelings into discussions with our male colleagues and mentors....We choose to protect ourselves from having our feelings dismissed or taken as signs of weakness or uncertainty.'" (1)

The woman you approach to be your mentor, or the person who identifies you as her protege, will most likely not be your current boss, "Though your boss can be instrumental in your performance development and career growth, your interactions with a boss who directs and evaluates you are different from your relationship with your mentor.... Whereas you will share failures with your mentor so that you can understand what went wrong and prepare to succeed next time, you will want to emphasize your successes with a boss who is responsible for your evaluations and salary." (1) Your boss may be one of the many people who help you, but you will need to be more careful about what information you reveal.

Judy Rosener, author of America's Competitive Secret: Women Managers, said, "...she finds the emphasis on mentoring to be overdone.... While mentors can be helpful, the best way for women to advance is to look around, learn from everyone with whom they work, develop their strengths, and build on what they learn... mentoring is helping and you are surrounded by people who can help." (1)


Whether you like the word "mentoring" or not, whether your organization has a formal program or not, always be thinking about how you can learn from others. Keep your eyes and mind open, look around to see who is doing what you want to do. Pay attention to people you envy or think you are falling in love with. They may have a quality you already have, but are afraid to risk using. "A little envy can be a good starting point for identifying someone you want to learn from at work. Envy means that you want what she has, and that can include position, power, salary, respect, and a seemingly smooth and balanced life." (1)


(1.) Duff. Carolyn. Learning From Other Women: How to Benefit from the Knowledge, Wisdom, and Experience of Female Mentors. New York. New York: AMACOM. 1999.

(2.) Furchgott. Roy. "Lucent Catting All Mavericks" Business Week Online, November 23, 1998, pp.1-8.

(3.) Burrows, Peter and Peter Elstrom. "HP's Carly Fiorina: The Boss" Business Week Online. August 2. 1999, P. 1-5,


Many people have helped me in my career. While I had more male mentors, my mother was the most influential role model and mentor who set the example that I almost unconsciously wanted to emulate. She taught business education and English classes and was a high school principal before my brother was born. She kept the books and worked with my father in their country grocery store while her children were young. I stayed with her most of the time in the store, begged her to teach me to read when I was five, which she did. She went back to full time teaching when I was eight.

When I married a physician and moved into a community where most of the wives did not work outside the home, I felt restless and unfulfilled. So when my children were five and two, I got a Masters in English to occupy my mind while I stayed with them during the early years. Then I taught Freshman English in several colleges and 'Business Writing" for the American Management Association until I went back to work full time.

There are more women in the workplace today, so there is the opportunity to have more women mentors than when I started my career. I've had six male mentors and one female who stand out as I look back at my career development.

* One was a preacher whose voice and courage to speak the truth with inspiring words I admired and

* One taught me group process theory and how to design seminars.

* A professor taught me writing was most powerful when new information was sifted through your own life experience.

* Another showed me how to maneuver through the politics of the academic world.

* One taught me how to do seminars in a high powered situation with a demanding audience.

* Another helped me pull together all of the above skills, gave me a full-time job, and continues to challenge me regularly.

* One woman taught me about conflict--how to have a falling out, but not run from the problem. I initiated the talks to repair the relationship--a first time move for me. Prior to that I would have just walked away from the friendship. She has remained my closest female friend for 18 years, giving advice when I ask for it.

My husband supported and encouraged everything I tried to do, even when he was aggravated that it took away from the comforts and conveniences provided by a traditional wife.

Barbara J. Linney, MA, is the Director of Professional Development at the American College of Physician Executives in Tampa, Florida and a member of its faculty She can be reached by calling 800/562-8088 or via email at
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Article Details
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Author:Linney, Barbara J.
Publication:Physician Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Managing the deliberately mute. (In The Trenches).
Next Article:Getting started as a physician executive. (Career RX).

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