Mentoring Builds Bridges, Enriches Lives and Supports Tomorrow's Leaders

Article excerpt

In our modern world of work, job stability is uncertain and career padis are more fluid. And for many, the current economic outlook dictates diat many older adults will extend their work lives indefinitely.

When faced with a major life transition - whemer it is influenced by job loss or voluntary retirement - people often seek ways to regroup, to re-energize. Mentoring can have that rejuvenating effect: it can make us feel wise, feel satisfied to be recycling our knowledge and can enrich our lives through helping someone to grow, learn and succeed. Mentors can provide day-to-day support along with a crucial long-term view, access 10 their networks and offer practical tips on how to stay employable for the king haul.

Women leaders have a vital role to play as both formai and informal mentors. They understand the special challenges women face as they rise in their professions while juggling work and home responsibilities. They can balance empathy and tough love in guiding women who are at an earlier career stage. Their mentoring sends a powerful message by building bridges with the next generation of leaders, demolishing stereotypes about age and strengthening organizations and professions.

"Mentoring was one of my most satisfying professional experiences - I connected wish amazing women and enjoyed passing along ray career's worth of knowledge to help smoorh their paths," says Ane Mitchell as woman in her 60s who has uenrored several women m the financial services field. Mitchell is also a member of the Transition Network, a community of professional women ages 50 and over whose changing life situations lead them to seek new connections, resources and opportunities (www.thetransi tionnetwork.org).

MENTORING 101

I have had the wonderful opportunity to mentor at least a dozen women at all professional levels, and have collected a portfolio of practical information on how best to make a mentoring relationship work.

Mentoring is a developmental relationship in which a more knowledgeable person shares information and provides encouragement and constructive criticism to a less knowledgeable person. Mentoring can be highly structured, with formal matching, satisfaction surveys and defined timeframes. Or it can be informal- a breakfast with someone who heard you speak on a panel, which leads io sporadic e-mail exchanges.

If you want to be a mentor, you can start the process by checking with your employer or professional organizations to find out what mentoring programs are available in your area. Colleges and graduate schools often organize mentoring programs. If you're new to mentoring, look for a relatively structured program with a go-to administrative person and fellow mentors who can share tips and well-defined expectations about the roles of mentors and mentees.

While today's working women have many more options and role models than women had in previous times, they can always learn from a mentor's experience, network and enthusiastic support. A mentor can provide practical advice on worklife issues that loom large at certain points in a woman's career. And women who have their roots in other cultures, first-generation members of the professional workforce, can benefit from cultural insights and exposure to work environments.

One of my mentees, a 28-year-old Chinese immigrant who had two graduate degrees and worked in a financial firm, told me that she got had gotten fed up and quit her job the day before. After a long conversation, she realized that quitting wasn't in her best interest, and we worked out a successful strategy for her to immediately withdraw her resignation.

MENTORING: CHALLENGES AND REWARDS

When I talk with potential mentors, some are put off by the imagined time commitment. But even in today's busy world, spending only a few hours per month with your mentee is both manageable and valuable. It's important to devote in-person time when you begin the process - after that, phone and e-mail are effective ways to communicate. …