“I’ve always believed that one woman’s success can only help another woman’s success.”
– Gloria Vanderbilt
For most of us, it is hard to understand why women would not be supportive of one another. However, women have long been given a bad rap in regards to how they treat each other, especially in the workplace. Unfortunately it is sometimes true. Women react out of their fear, jealousy, need for control or lack of self-esteem. For others it is the lack of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. At times they don’t even recognize their own behavior. The worst is when it is about power and the ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome. Some women are reluctant to support other women because they fear someone will surpass them. Strong women believe in each other, and build one another up, not tear one another down. Iron sharpens iron. Hopefully that is the norm, and not the exception.
When I was 22, and just returning to the states from Europe, I was anxious to find a job. I had only one year of college complete, and jobs in the military community where I lived were not easy to come by. Scanning the classifieds in the paper one day, I ran across an ad for a nanny. I was kind of intrigued and on a whim I applied. As it turns out, I was hired to be a nanny for a woman who worked as a manager for a marketing company out of her home. She spent most of the day pacing in her kitchen on the phone, and sending reports out by fax. Joan impressed me, and I thought she had the most amazing job. She seemed powerful, and whoever she spoke to on the other end of the phone had no idea she was walking around the house in her pajamas, while I was busy caring for her kids. Joan and I talked a lot. After a few months or so, she sat me down at the kitchen table and told me I did not belong scrubbing her kitchen floor. Before I knew it, I was working under her as an area supervisor, in which I covered four different states. Joan became one of my first mentors and one of the first people who believed in me.
We all need a mentor or two. I have been lucky that I have had several throughout my life. Not all of them have been women, but most of them have. A good mentor can help steer you to success, but surveys show only 1 out of 5 women have ever had a mentor. A mentor provides teaching through their own experience, encouragement, assistance with overcoming obstacles, and they are willing to endorse you. A mentor can help you discover things inside of you that you can’t see. They are someone who has gone before you and can lead the way.
In the past I have had mentors that have educated me on various topics, not just in my professional life. I have been mentored on everything from being a military wife, to raising and homeschooling children. There are those in my life that I consider to be my spiritual mentors. Even being the introvert that I am, I thrive on talking with and learning from others. I love to hear people’s stories, because I feel I can learn something valuable from them. Mentoring doesn’t always have to be a formal meeting weekly or monthly over coffee. It can be exchanging emails, or even just talking with them on occasion. Sometimes a mentoring relationship is impersonal and between a professional and novice, such as in the workplace. It can also be a friendship with someone you consider a role model. It is important to surround yourself with people who are already where you want to be.
One doesn’t have to be mentored so to speak, to experience the impact from others. I have had several women who have impacted me greatly just by recognizing things in me and motivating me to take risks to do what I love. Sometimes it has been as simple as a compliment and an encouraging word that has helped me to continue on. Often when we are stepping out and taking risks we have doubts and feel vulnerable. How awesome it is when someone takes a moment to help us believe that it is possible to go further than we ever thought we could.
So how do you find a mentor? Finding a mentor is not always easy, but it can be life changing. Be creative when looking for a mentor. Begin to network. Ask a colleague or business acquaintance that you respect. It does not have to be someone in the same industry. It can be someone successful that you feel a connection with. It also does not have to be someone in your same generation or of the same gender. Check if your school, professional organization or business has a formal mentoring program. If you are looking for a personal mentor think about those you know such as family, friends, or community members. Make the effort. There are a lot of great leaders out there.
To all the women who made a difference in my life, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for believing in me, and for stepping out and pushing me in the right direction. Kudos!