Monday, September 9, 2013

The Meaning of Mentoring

As a young professional just out of college, I didn't have clear goals about what I wanted to do with my career. In fact, the idea of a "career" vs. a job wasn't even something I was actively thinking about. I was most preoccupied with getting a job in the city so I could move out of my parent's house in the sticks. I was very lucky. After a string of disappointing job interviews, I found myself gainfully employed by a university physics department, and my boss was an amazing teacher. He was also my first mentor, helping me to improve my skill set and supporting me while I worked on a graduate degree. While I wasn't going to pursue a career in physics, he guided me through the complicated world of Academe, and encouraged me to use my talent and smarts to move forward.

My second mentor was my next boss. There's a difference between a boss and a mentor, but I was fortunate to find a second person who was both. She told me about which professional networks to join, and how to polish my outward appearance and persona so people would take me more seriously. (She also taught me to always open correspondence with a letter opener, which is something I still do.) We still meet for coffee and trade emails and she's still offering me her time and advice. She's someone I can really count on.

I was elated when Simmons launched a formal mentoring program two years ago, and signed up immediately to be a mentor. I firmly believe in Simmons' mission of educating women for principled leadership. There aren't enough women in the C-suite. There aren't enough women on corporate boards. And the way that more women will get there is to help each other. I truly hope that the women I mentor will build strong careers for themselves, and provide a path for future women to follow.

Yes, mentoring takes a lot of effort. With the Simmons program, we met every two weeks, set goals, and worked toward them together. It is terrifically rewarding to hear someone making progress and part of that progress was due to my input. In some ways, mentoring reminds me of the concepts I learned when I was starting out in fundraising: people don't give to institutions, they give to people. Donors are making an investment in something they care about, whether it's scholarships for dance classes or feeding seven families at Thanksgiving. So I am making an investment in women that I hope to see a return on, in the form of principled leaders who will bring good judgment and perspective to the world of business. 

Have you mentored someone? Have you had an exceptional mentor?