“It asks what I might need help with and I don’t know what to say.” My daughter is at the dining room table filling out her Camper Letter to Counselor form for her summer camp.
With this one comment I am struck by the parallels between her experiences at camp and mentoring in the workplace.
She will leave home for a week and live in the woods with a group of young women who have done this before her, and who are prepared to help her in ways that she can’t quite anticipate. She will try new things, she will sometimes fail. She will see examples of female leadership and have the opportunity to build on her own leadership skills. She comes back home from camp every summer brimming with confidence and pride in what she has done – and I know she has not done it alone.
For a reason, or for a season
Often when we think of Mentors, we think of them with a capital M – one person who acts as a personal coach for work life and career advancement throughout your work life. This type of Mentor can be very valuable – but also elusive.
There is a quote that one of my friends is fond of saying, especially during times of change, “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” This is also true of mentors. When I think back to the people who have had the most influence on my professional life it is mostly a collection of people in the “for a reason” or “for a season” categories.
Get out of your comfort zone
“It asks what I might need help with and I don’t know what to say.” We’ve all been there, right? It takes a bit of courage and moxie to push through this and to really articulate what we would like to do and that we could benefit from some help in that area. When we can do this, it helps to create those relationships “for a reason.” I have seen this happen countless times in my social circles and spawn some amazing mentoring relationships.
“I want to start my own business and I might need help with that.”
“I want to ensure that I am getting paid fairly and I might need help with that.”
“I want to advocate for new HR policies at my workplace and I might need help with that.”
Once we can articulate what it is that we would like help with, then it becomes easier to find someone who has had a similar experience and reach out to them with a request. Asking someone to mentor “for a reason” helps frame the relationship and the duration of the request – it could range from one phone call, to a longer-term connection depending on the need.
My most valuable mentoring relationships have been these less formal fluid connections that I have made to discuss specific scenarios than the more formal types of mentors.
The value of women-only space
One of the things I value most about my daughter’s camp experience is that it will be in an all-girl environment. As she sees leaders and role models, exemplary scouts and competition winners – they will all be girls. This is no minor thing. She will also be fostering the kinds of friendships and relationships that will help support her working towards her own goals.
This type of connection is not just for kids. Professional women can also benefit from time in women-only spaces. I have participated in and created some women-only spaces and the benefit to the participants has been profound. It facilitates the kinds of conversations and sharing that can lead to informal mentoring relationships, it allows for frank conversations about salary discrepancies and other gender dynamics in the workplace. Building connections with women across all sectors of our industry is key in developing the kinds of relationships that will sustain professional growth and advancement over the long term.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.