Conventional wisdom states that in order to be successful in business, a person with little experience should seek out a person with lots of it, in order to obtain some sort of magical guidance/tutelage/oracle cocktail that will propel the budding young star into a galaxy far, far away.
Or something like that.
The truth is, long-term mentoring relationships are both rare and difficult to come by, particularly for anyone working as a minority of any kind in his or her field. Those partnerships take time, patience, and dedication to build and manage; the mentor and mentee need to feel equally invested in each other in order to sustain a mutual professional bond.
As a writer, I’m fortunate that many of my role models are relatively accessible people, at least in the sense that some of them are public figures and active industry leaders — I can always find their work, and with a bit of effort I can occasionally meet them in person at trade events. This doesn’t make them mentors in the traditional sense, but it provides some building blocks for my career direction that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
In addition, I find the good folks of the jewelry industry to be pretty forthcoming with advice, all things considered. There is the sense that a rising tide will lift all boats, and as I make forays into the realm of connection-building with an earnest desire to learn, I’ve received mostly warm welcomes from both men and women. (Mostly.)
Unfortunately, my immediate work sphere has no such people available. First of all, are exactly zero female “higher ups” at my current company of about 150. Nada. Goose egg. I work in an environment that is totally dominated by Category: Straight White Male, Subcategory: Privileged Millennial, and it shows.
You’d have to be fortunate enough to live off the grid in order to escape the genderized buzzwords of the modern tech world. I can #PowerPose, #LeanIn, #AskHerMore, and go #AllInForHer to my little heart’s content (I could even be married to a man who’s #HeforShe), but would Tweeting any of those get me closer to a tech exec? Unlikely.
In an odd twist, I’ve had about a half-dozen women at my own company go out of their ways to discuss this very issue with me. Keep in mind, I don’t work in HR or People Operations. Either those power poses are really working, or I’m simply much more outspoken against the downright absurd lack of women in general and in leadership in particular.
(True story: when I paraphrased The Notorious RBG’s famous quote about the number of women on the Supreme Court it will take to satisfy her — all of them — I got laughed at. Actually laughed at for daring to argue that all-female anything is not a crazy idea.)
So what’s the deal? There are many theories, but right now I’m eyeing the thoughts laid out in this post. Essentially, we might need to rethink our approach to the mentoring function entirely. While building a solid connection with a few select people should still be on the radar, it may be more beneficial to “create mentoring moments right around you.” This means paying attention to the people who are most easily accessible — yes, including your peers — and seeking out a more impromptu mentoring dynamic, easing some of the pressures that come with long-term relationships. This advice is founded in a pragmatic approach to the ways and means of business today.
My personal preference is still to pursue a more lasting bond, one that must be built on developing trust and a deeper understanding between the people involved. But perhaps it’s in my best interest (and the interests of women everywhere) to take the growth opportunities when we can get them.
P.S. The header photo is proof I’ve been Power Posin’ since 2008, folks.