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Where's My Mentor?

Vivia Chen

November 1, 2011


 Poor baby boomer women. Not only did you have to be one of the pioneers in professions like law and finance, but you had to lead the charge wearing some of the most god-awful fashion in recent history, such as suits with overgrown shoulder pads and clownish bows that mimicked men's ties. Your secretaries hated you (and maybe still do), and, despite working like a dog, few of you made it to the top.

But there's progress. Work/life balance is officially on the radar (okay, so it only exists in theory), and women are finally getting into the mentoring act. In fact, isn't a mentor a must-have for professional women today?

By most accounts, mentoring is crucial for climbing that ladder—and staying on it. In a recently released survey by LinkedIn of nearly 1,000 female professionals in the U.S., only 19 percent said they never had a mentor. That means that over 80 percent of women are getting mentored—which, to me, is a promising statistic.

But guess who's getting left out? Yup—the baby boomers. Here's the breakdown by LinkedIn:

    • More than half, 51 percent, of the Gen Y women (females between 18 and 29 years old) LinkedIn surveyed noted that they are being or have been mentored by women.

    • Forty-three percent of Gen X females (women between 30 and 44 years old) noted that they are being or have been mentored by women.

    • Only 34 percent of boomers (females between 45 and 66 years old) responded that they have been, or are being mentored, by women.

So have the boomer women been kept out of the mentoring loop? Forbes blog contributor Kerry Hannon suggests there was simply a dearth of senior women back when they entered the workforce. And the few women who were in relative positions of power, she adds, weren't the nurturing sort: "They were very protective of their much fought for status. Heels high, nails sharp."

So what can the boomer do now? And for that matter, what can anyone who's mentorless do?

Hannon offers some tips:

1. Look outside the office. Check out professional associations, friends, and even relatives.

2. Go out on a limb and ask, "Will you be my mentor?" Some 67 percent of the women in the LinkedIn survey "said they had never mentored another professional because 'no one had ever asked.'"

3. Start the conversation by asking for advice. Hanlon quotes this tip from career coach Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting: “You might approach a senior colleague and say, “I want to get better at X, and I notice that you are great at X, so I wonder if you could give me advice about this X type challenge.”

4. Be a mentor yourself. The idea is that you learn by doing. "This will give you a better idea of how to work with a mentor yourself," writes Hanlon.

All of this reminds me that I've completely missed the mentor boat myself. Yes, I've had some good teachers who have helped me sharpened my skills, but I've never had anyone who's sat me down with a road map about how I should plot my career. So, Maureen Dowd, will you be my mentor?

Related post: When Your Mentor Isn't Into You

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected]

Photo: Working Girl.


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Isn't it time the boomers were doing not mentoring, not getting mentored? Why not go out and ask the women of the Greatest Generation the same thing?

What the boomers need a mentor in at this stage in life is how to find a good place to retire.

I would suggest that you ask the person you know in common to introduce you.
V. Chen

Why assume that a mentor has to be female? I am a 46 year old female attorney and have had quite a few fabulous male and female mentors. I recognize how lucky I am and try "to pay it forward," by mentoring other attorneys.

Great post! I was just thinking yesterday about this. I noticed a woman that's a 3rd connection on LinkedIn. I don't know her, but we attended same law school. How should I go about asking her? Straight to the point, or informational interview...then ask about mentoring?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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