leadership

Professional women seeking professionals: Five tips to help you find a mentor

Yolanda Redrup /

Professional women earning over $65,000 are less likely to be overlooked for a job if they have a mentor, new research reveals, as the majority of women are now seeking career support from other professionals.

A study by Sweeney Research, commissioned by Westpac, of 1031 professional women found 41% of those surveyed had a mentor or role model inside their company or out and a further 13% had a sponsor (someone in the workplace in a position of authority who can help them move up the ladder).

Of the 40% of women without a mentor, role model or sponsor, 94% said they wanted someone who could provide them with support.

Chief executive of Seven Dimensions and psychologist Eve Ash told SmartCompany mentors are valuable at any stage in a person’s career.

“They help to keep you on track with your goals and help you identify what the gaps are in your business,” she says.

“Providing a reality check is another one of the big advantages of having a mentor. People are often stuck inside their own heads and when you voice an idea to a mentor it can become a reality and you’ll get feedback.”

And it seems having a mentor can also help women to score a job or advance their career.

Thirty-five per cent of women without a mentor, role model or sponsor said they’d been overlooked for a job, while only 29% of women with a mentor reported experiencing this.

However in other areas of support the difference wasn’t as marked. Twenty-five per cent of women with support and 25% of women without support had faced challenges getting the same pay as men.

While securing a mentor can be extremely valuable to either an employee or a business owner, finding the right person isn’t always easy.

Ash gave SmartCompany five tips to keep in mind when finding a mentor.

1. Research and network

Ash says people looking for a mentor should start by researching people in their industry.

“Read online about who is doing what in your own company and in your industry as a starting point, and ideally you’d take opportunities to network and go to events where people speak and people mix, so you can put yourself in a situation where you could meet a possible mentor,” she says.

“You want to find a mentor with a track record of achievements. You want to see how they operate, and if they have values you admire. You can also talk to other women and men and ask about who is doing what, who has achieved what and who is good to work for as a manager,” she says.

 

2. Identify values and goals

Ash says to consider selecting a mentor based on their achievements and specific qualities.

“Unlike a marriage where you take all the person’s qualities and live with the person, with a mentor you can select them by a particular thing, for example, it could be getting a person who has successfully launched their product overseas,” she says.

There is no point just going, ‘oh I think I’ll grab that person as a mentor’. You need to think about where you are and what you want to achieve; the clearer you are, the more interested your mentor is going to be.”

3. Age is no limit

Mentors are often sought after by young entrepreneurs just starting out, but they can also be useful for people already established in their career.

“There are people running companies who have been doing so for years who then need a mentor. The person is someone you can voice your vision to,” Ash says.

“You might be going through a huge change in the way you work and a mentor can be like a sounding board, someone you can report to regularly to make sure you’re on track.”

4. Define the time

Ash says one danger of engaging a mentor can be leaving the time period of the mentorship undefined.

“Open ended creates an uneasy expectation as it unfolds. Both parties need to think about how will it end; what if they don’t want to provide it anymore or what if the person no longer wants a mentor,” she says.

“Set a period of time, be it three months, six months or a year. But say you’ll do it for X period and then review the arrangement.”

5. When the relationship doesn’t work out

Ash says mentoring relationships are like any other, if it doesn’t work, move on.

“It’s the same with a psychologist, a lawyer or an accountant, if you don’t like the person or don’t get along with them, you move on.”

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