Understanding the best way to advance your career can be hard to grasp on your own. Working with a mentor to guide you along that journey can help you navigate the challenges and improve your chances of success. In the fifth part in a series of online events celebrating Women in Risk and Control’s first anniversary, Beacon Partners Co-Founders and hosts Genevieve E. Thayer and Meg Hanington were joined by Kristin Long, Vice President and Director of Sales at ViacomCBS Philadelphia; Dr. Barbara Provost, Founder of Purse Strings; Zach Conway, Founder and CEO of Seeds and Managing Director of Conway Wealth; and Eric Fulwiler, Founder and CEO of Rival, to discuss how to develop meaningful mentoring relationships and how to find the right mentor for you. 

Here are five key takeaways from the webinar:  

1. The value of having a mentor 

It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out in your career or sitting on the board, having someone who can offer timely advice and guidance is invaluable. “As soon as you stop learning, you stop growing,” says Fulwiler. “No matter what stage of your career you’re at, there is something you can learn from everybody.” One benefit of working with a mentor is having someone view your situation from a different vantage point. “Sometimes we get into a kind of tunnel vision from our day-to-day grind, so just having an external perspective to draw the lens out and really help you understand what’s happening around you can very often reshape your approach to your work,” says Conway. It is also not just a box-ticking exercise—it’s coaching, it’s counselling, it’s problem-solving and providing a safe space to talk, but it’s also cheerleading and kindness and non-judgement, says Long. “This is a legitimate, dynamic human relationship that should not feel like a chore,” she says.  

2. Choosing a mentor 

Before entering a mentoring relationship, mentees should think carefully about what they want to get out of the process. “I start every mentoring relationship by asking what do you need? and more often than not they don’t know,” says Long. “A lot of the conversation early on revolves around that.” Finding the right mentor doesn’t mean putting all your eggs in one basket either. “There’s mentorship opportunities all around you,” says Fulwiler. “You don’t need to get 100% of your mentorship needs out of one person—I have around 50 people who I would classify as mentors in the sense that they know me and I value their experience and perspective and I’ll call them up when I have something I want to learn from them about. That for me is a much broader perspective on mentorship that unlocks a lot more value.”  

3. Be committed  

To get the most out of a mentor, mentees need to be fully committed to the relationship and be willing to learn and act on advice. “Being coachable is a beautiful quality in a mentee,” says Long. That means mentees need to take accountability for the process and be motivated to improve themselves. “Nobody is going to care more about your career than you—not your mentor, not your boss, not your colleagues,” says Fulwiler. “For every success story there are probably 99 other people that just don’t take the initiative—you have to have the drive to go for it.” Likewise, mentors also need to be sure they have sufficient time to commit to the relationship, says Conway. 

4. Supporting diversity 

Mentorship programmes can be especially important for boosting diversity in organisations and helping empower people from underrepresented groups to advance their careers. Diversity is not just gender, but race, age and sexual orientation, and having breadth and depth of perspective is a key quality for successful mentorship programmes. “I push back when we match women with women or black with black,” says Long. The C-Suite also needs to work much harder at increasing diversity. “You need to focus on the people and be really intentional every single day about what we want our organisations to look like, it doesn’t just happen because you want it to happen, you have to be very intentional about how you’re going to approach that from a very human standpoint,” says Dr. Provost. 

5. Advocating for yourself 

One skill people often struggle with is advocating for themselves—not being braggadocious but being assertive and having a voice that is respected, says Hanington. Part of the problem is that women often shy away from celebrating their abilities. “There is too much judgement around women and their credentials.” says Dr. Provost. “Women also need to be more confident about speaking up. “Raise your hand and figure it out later,” suggests Long. And while mentors can be your best advocates, there may be even more allies out there willing to stand in your corner. “There are a lot of people who want to help even if they don’t look like the people that might typically be the ones to help you,” says Fulwiler. 

Click here to watch the webinar.

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