Last month I attended the annual awards conference of Catalyst, an organization that advocates for women in business. Xerox CEO Ursula Burns was the lunchtime speaker. She was refreshingly blunt, funny and engaging. One of the points she made was that mentors are an important part of a successful career: “Men and women need them, but women need them more.”
That made me a bit concerned, as I’ve never really had one. I asked Tiffany Dufu to spell out just what mentorship can do for women in particular. Dufu is chief leadership officer of Levo League, a startup devoted to getting Generation Y women to the top. Mentorship, she says, “helps you achieve clarity through guidance and encouragement.”
Many women want to find a mentor, but it’s hard to go about that if there’s no obvious candidate lurking in your office. And there may not be, since senior women are relatively thin on the ground. Dufu says you should definitely seek out men as well. She advises mentees not to think about mentorship in terms of one person, a savior who’s going to magically elevate your career.
“It’s valuable to have multiple mentors at one time, because that’s how you can shape one element of mentorship, which is learning more about yourself,” she says, and adds that various mentors should be giving you messages about yourself that are consistent: “That is how you build a level of self-awareness about what to do next in your career.” Levo League now has an online mentorship program allowing members to tap many senior women for advice.
Dufu says she’s had wonderful mentors in the past who were totally unconnected to her company or industry — women “who had been around the block several times and could provide guidance.” So don’t feel your mentor has to be someone from work.
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Ashley Milne-Tyte is a radio producer and reporter based in New York City. She hosts a bi-monthly podcast called “The Broad Experience” about women in the workplace.