All of you savvy women in finance know how important it is to have a mentor in your field. Someone you can look up to, confide in, work with and learn from. If you are like me, you probably picture your ideal mentor as an accomplished woman who looks just like you in ten or twenty years. (Minus the wrinkles and a few extra pounds, of course. You will still be young-looking and stylish at her age!)
But your ideal mentor match might not be someone exactly like you. The “Mini-Me” approach to mentoring often does not work well for women, for several reasons. First, the demand for high powered, qualified women to serve as mentors to bright promising young women outstrips the supply at most companies. Why? Because there are fewer women in positions of power in finance and law, though that is changing. This is especially true for women of color. Second, being mentored by a woman who is too much like you can cause tension and competitiveness when the star pupil begins to outshine the teacher. Third, you can often learn more about your industry by working with someone whose style and background are different than yours, rather than reaffirming what you already know.
It’s important to have more than one mentor. A mentor who is a few years ahead of you is a good person to turn to for daily, practical, “I’m asking you this so I don’t look stupid” advice. This mentor can also help you cement friendships at work by introducing you to his or her social circle. But it’s also great to have an older, wiser mentor who can serve as a role model and give you long-range career advice too.
Find your own mentor, even if your company assigns you one. Formal mentoring programs that mean well often pair people together based on gender or ethnicity, but don’t pay attention to areas of interest or personality that are so important to making a good mentor match. If your company has a formal mentoring program, take advantage of it and learn as much as you can. But don’t let your search for a mentor stop there. Form alliances with senior men and women you admire and want to work with. Consider non-traditional mentors, like the senior partner with less charm than Britney Spears at the VMAs, but who always seems to get the deal done. Informal mentoring relationships may be more productive in the long-term because they are based on mutual affinity and interest, not just HR decisions.
Have a story about mentoring to share? We want to hear about the best and worst experiences our readers have had with mentors. …