Everyone makes relationships during their lives, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
One that can be beneficial for women in the business world (as well as life in general) is having another woman as a mentor, said Rosenna Bakari, local psychologist and author.
“I think it’s important for women to mentor each other because women have particular issues that they come up against in the workplace, in the home, and in society,” she said. “It’s also so we can feel a sense of belonging and feel like there is someone who can relate to our experiences.”
Bakari defines a mentor as someone who has a personal investment in a mentee’s success.
“And they actively seek to help you,” she said. “That’s what makes a mentor different than a role model. A role model may not actively seek to help you but a mentor does.”
The difference with a man mentoring a woman is the personal connection that can be made between two women, Bakari said.
“When a woman relates to you as another woman, it’s because she understands what the complexity of your roles may be in a work or a home environment or whatever,” she said. “It adds another layer of support for you.”
Becca Tonn, communications manager for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, said men and women have different ways of responding to situations.
“If someone just told a woman to go in and make a tough decision and ‘Who cares,’ that might not be how she sees things,” she said. “Women typically want more buy-in and consensus to make a decision. I think another woman is going to understand that and be more apt to give guidance that goes with something she is comfortable doing.”
A key to developing a mentorship-type relationship is meeting as many people, or women, as possible, both Tonn and Bakari said.
“I think the more people we meet and know, the better,” Tonn said. “You get to meet different personalities and find someone who you will click with because I think it’s going to work better if both of you get along.”
Bakari said everyone should want to be part of a mentorship but sometimes the relationship has to be created, which requires networking.
“There aren’t just signs with people saying, ‘Hey, I’m a mentor,’” she said. “I also suggest that people not necessarily be stuck with finding somebody who is doing exactly what they are doing or in the same industry.”
A good mentor is going to be someone who has visibly helped someone else, Bakari said.
“If they have never taken personal responsibility in anyone else’s success except their own, it doesn’t matter how successful they are, they are not going to be a good mentor,” she said. “The more successful a person is, the more there should be evidence of their mentorship.”
Mentorships happen by having “deep conversations” and getting to know people, Bakari said.
“It’s letting them know what you are working on and what your interests are and finding out about them,” she said. “It’s a relationship; it’s not a mentor and then a mentee underneath them.”
For a mentee, the relationship can help them navigate through the start of their career or family, Bakari said.
“There is a lot unknown, particularly for women,” she said. “There are a lot of things that people don’t tell you — whether it’s about having a baby or in the beginning of your career.”
When a mentee knows she can go to her mentor, Bakari said it makes a big difference in how she approaches challenges.
“It frees you up to take risks; it clears your mind to know you are not alone, and it just provides a layer of support that really adds to your potential for success,” she said.
Kelli Williams, vice president of ADD STAFF Inc., said when she first entered the workforce she had several women mentors.
“They helped me with everything from how to present myself to how to brand myself,” she said. “Without those relationships, I just don’t know that I would have learned some of those things that are harder to learn when you’re just starting out.”
Tonn said women need mentors during all stages of their career.
“I don’t think there is a magical point in your career when you don’t need to be mentored anymore,” she said. “What happens is, at first you need a mentor, and then you get mid-career and you start mentoring other women but you still need someone to talk to because you are at a higher level now.”
The relationship may not have to be as formal as people get older, Tonn said.
“I think, when you are younger, a more formal one can be helpful with specific goals written out and, say, regular meetings every month,” she said. “But, I think it looks a little more informal when you are older.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to mentors, Bakari said having a mentee pushes them to better themselves.
“When you know that someone is watching you, it pushes you to be even better than what your best was before that mentee came into your life,” she said. “You are more likely to make decisions that are really in your best interest that will move you forward because you don’t want to let down your mentee.”
Williams said it’s important older, more experienced women realize something as simple as an introduction can benefit a younger professional.
“When I first joined the women’s chamber, I didn’t really know that many people, but I had someone who went out of the way to introduce me to people each time, and that was huge,” she said. “It encouraged me to sit at different tables and to meet different people. It shows there is always a way you can be helping someone.”
Women mentoring other women is essential for future generations, Bakari said.
“Whether you call that movement feminism, womanism, equality, whatever you call it, we need to move forward collectively,” she said. “Mentorship has to be on the agenda — how do we support each other and bring each other along.”
Tonn said there’s been a lot of progress with women in the workplace during the past 50 years; however, equality in the U.S. still is not where it needs to be.
“And that’s why women still need to be mentoring each other and supporting and helping each other,” she said. “That’s going to make the workplace better for all women if we are all helping each other.”