Why Women Shouldn’t Rely Exclusively On Female Mentors
As a woman building a career or business, you’re likely to gravitate toward other experienced, successful women when you seek out mentors. And for good reason – female mentors who have walked a similar path will be invaluable in helping you find your own way.
But, I would also challenge women to think more expansively about their mentors. While we all need mentors who share in job experience, life experience, and similar interests, we also need mentors who bring completely different perspectives to our lives and careers. I’ve learned that those alternate perspectives help you think more broadly about the possibilities, the opportunities, and even the challenges you face.
Early in my career I mostly sought out female mentors, believing that because they had already walked the path I was on, their advice would be the most valuable. And in some ways, I was right. I undoubtedly wouldn’t be where I am without female mentors.
But several years ago I decided to take a different approach. I had just written down my three-year career goals, an exercise my company sets to then assemble a board of career advisers that help us achieve the goals we set. As I expanded my role from marketing to Head of Marketing to executive team member and CMO for a 1,200-person professional services firm, I looked at the skills I needed – sales, running operations, balancing life – and expanded to look at other senior leaders, not just women, to help me grow those skills.
I started to see that I was beginning to turn to more and more men for advice to gain different viewpoints and how those viewpoints could help make me more well-rounded. And as I began working with them, telling them about my goals and challenges and listening to their ideas and counsel, I came to understand that, while their perspectives and approach to mentoring were different from the women I’d always turned to, those differences were exactly what I needed. From that point on, I have prided myself on building a diverse group of mentors and advisers to help shape both the professional and person I am today.
The experience has taught me that all mentors – male and female – pull from their prior experience, and if you are exclusively tied to a single gender, you are missing out. Men and women think about things differently, so I present both with the same problem and together they help me get to a more well-rounded perspective used to design my path forward. For example, my male mentors inspire me to see my career without limitation and encourage me to look at key decisions through a completely different lens, such as how I could take my expertise and knowledge from our clients to have a bigger influence on broad business decisions.
Limitless Goals & Expectations
It’s tempting to think of the ways that men – especially white men – would be less effective as mentors for women. They’ve had advantages – in the workplace, in the world – that women still don’t have. To name just three: White men can choose a profession without worrying about how many of their race or gender have succeeded in that field. Men in previous generations, and still some today, rarely had to think about having a family as a limitation on their careers. And they almost certainly have never walked into a meeting or business dinner to find that no one else looks like them. It’s circumstances like these that lead to women only making up 21 percent of top executives who might be in the running to become CEO (according to the 2017 Women in the Workplace study). In the S&P 1500, this number drops to about 10 percent.
But those circumstances are precisely the reasons I find them uniquely valuable as mentors. Free from patriarchal constraints, men naturally think expansively about career matters. My male mentors apply that expansive thinking to me, helping me see beyond the expectations the world places on me, and I subconsciously place on myself, as a woman. Some may think this is making me embrace a male-influenced point of view; however, I see it as the contrary. I am embracing an expansive way of thinking, while remaining authentic to who I am.
Yet, my male mentors have helped me redefine my role and grow as a senior executive beyond just my “marketing” role to be a better firm-wide leader. Since taking the role on in 2011, I’ve gained a significant voice in setting my firm’s strategic vision, influencing innovation and investments, expanding the view of marketing from cost center to revenue-generating, and building a direct communication channel to many of my firm’s clients because they pushed me to think bigger about my role and to advocate strongly for what I wanted.
This experience was also lived by Susan Chambers, vice president of Walmart, who said that her male mentor set such high standards and expectations, and expected her to move faster and achieve so much more, that she wouldn’t be in her current role without him. And while trying at times, she knew his actions were a clear expression of care and commitment to her and her career.
Challenge, Not Solution
Many females avoid seeking advice from men because of the stereotype that men don’t listen and jump in to solution too quickly. However, I have found that like my female mentors, my male mentors seek to understand first and foremost, think about me as an individual first, and then challenge me to think about things differently.
I am consistently met with questions that often provide contradictory points of view. In answering them, I often discover that I’ve been thinking about the situation too narrowly. A few years ago, I sought out an old grad school professor’s advice on whether my job at that time was a good fit. He pushed me to evaluate my long-term aspiration, analyze what wasn’t working, and think about what my dream job would look like. Answering his questions forced me to shift my perspective and made me realize that I hadn’t considered all the opportunities the role afforded me.
Of course, seizing those opportunities is up to us. So is finding the right mentors. That requires thinking carefully about where you want to go and what you hope to accomplish – and about how a diversity of perspectives could open your eyes to possibilities you never considered.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Director of Marketing
West Monroe Partners
B2B Marketer with nearly 15 years of experience capturing what makes brands truly unique and developing programs to bring those brands to life! Currently, the director of marketing for West Monroe Partners, where I lead the firm’s go to market strategy and oversee a multifaceted brand-building program that has produced a distinctive and highly respected marketplace reputation. I enjoy bringing West Monroe Partners’ Uncommon Blend of business consultants and deep technologies to life in all our... Continue Reading
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