(Just as a preface: I apologize for the lengthy-ness of this post, but as you read on to realize its double purpose -why it’s important for women especially to acquire a professional mentor and a tribute to my personal professional mentor- I hope it was worth your time.)
Having read Sheryl Sandberg’s, Lean In, I was able to extract a plethora of knowledge, insight, inspiration, confirmation, as well a few laugh-out-loud moments. While each chapter is integral to the book, I will be focusing on the content from Chapter 5, “Are you my mentor?” for this post specifically.
To begin, Sandberg demonstrates the difference between a mentor and sponsor: that is, a mentor is someone who advises, while a sponsor is someone who uses their influence to advocate. Sandberg goes onto reveal that “men are significantly more likely than women to be sponsored and that those with sponsors are more satisfied with their rates of advancement”. This is attributed to the fact that it is men who often have an easier time acquiring and maintaining these relationships.
The book goes onto explain that the Center for Work-Life Policy and the Harvard Business Review published a study that reported that “64% of men at the level of VP and above are hesitant to have a one-on-one meeting with a more junior woman” and that “half of the junior women avoided close contact with senior men”. While Sandberg does not claim this to be the sole reason why “the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade”, it does demonstrate one of the ways that women simply are not presented with the same opportunities for career advancement as men. Or at least given the same support.
Does this mean this senior-men-sponsoring/mentoring-junior-men cycle cannot be broken? Absolutely not. Sandberg enlightens her readers with the importance of structured mentorship programs. Such programs have the ability to not only alleviate pressure from junior women from having to initiate a male mentorship relationship, but also help normalize the senior man/junior woman model. In fact, “women who find mentors through formal programs were 50% more likely to be promoted than women who found mentors on their own.”
Thankfully for myself, I attended a business school where it has one of these structured programs and it was through the program where I met my mentor, Robin Dyke.
I first met Robin in the second semester of my third year through The Gustavson Executive Mentor Program. The reason I applied was to follow the footsteps of a former BCom student, Kyle Vucko. Kyle leveraged the mentorship program to get connected to a handful of current and former high executives from the tech industry – the industry he was planning on launching his startup, Indochino, in. As I had just started to take ethreeone. a bit more seriously, I knew that finding a mentor would be helpful.
To get a mentor, you first have to fill out a profile and then meet with the mentor coordinator who asks you a series of questions in order to narrow down a list of potential mentor candidates. The mentor coordinator is essentially a match maker. The coordinator at the time when I went in for my meeting was Robin Dyke. I often get asked how I managed to land the mentor coordinator as my mentor, and truth be told, I ask myself the same question to this day. I truly did hit the #MentorJackpot with Robin.
Going into my meeting with Robin, I was still on a high from being named one of the winners of PitchIt! the night before where I pitched ethreeone. for the very first time to strangers. As such, the topic of ethreeone. came up quickly and Robin asked me to share it with him. To my surprise, Robin took a genuine interest in the concept and this fuelled our dialogue for the next hour and a half.
Before wrapping up our meeting, Robin informed me about the next steps in the application process where he would send me the resumes of his list of candidates and I would then decide who I wanted to be matched with. With probably one of my bolder moves, I gave the brilliant suggestion that a list was not necessary as I thought Robin should be my mentor. Robin, in his ever-so-annoying-humble-manner responded with “oh I’m no mentor, I just facilitate the mentors and students”. I smiled and left his office saying “I think you would be a great fit.”
That weekend, I received the following email:
Fast forward to today: over two years later and I have graduated from the Gustavson School of Business while Robin has just stepped down as their mentor coordinator. For the majority of our relationship, we have been in different cities and even countries and yet our relationship is stronger than ever as our understanding of who each other is continues to develop.
So in celebration of Robin’s time as the mentor coordinator for over a decade, I would like dedicate this post to him.
Robin, I want to thank you for being the first person who I really shared ethreeone. in depth to and for being the first one to believe in it and me to this day. You continue to push me to challenge the status quo, and I can’t thank you enough for being patient with me as I continue to discover my potential that you’ve seen all along.
So thank you for calling me out on my excuses and for recognizing when I’m getting off track. Thank you for pointing out tendencies and inclinations about myself before I can even recognize them. Thank you for paying for the coffee if I’m on time to our meetings and thank you for making me pay if I’m late. Thank you for listening when I ramble on and on and on and on. Thank you for the consistent supply of links, resources and countless in-person and e-introductions. Thank you for your invaluable wisdom and insight. Thank you for inviting me into your and Marline’s home. Thank you for reading my ethreeone. posts – even when they are too long – and for taking the time to always write back with a nice comment or constructive feedback.
And most importantly, thank you for being my mentor.
Before I wrap up this post, I want to reiterate Sandberg’s point of how searching for a mentor in today’s day and age has become the young, female professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. What Sandberg means by this, is that “young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after.”
As a disclaimer: this post is not to give the false promise that by just acquiring a mentor, you automatically receive career advancement or startup success, nor is it to encourage an over dependency on a mentor/mentee relationship. For each of these false beliefs, it is ultimately up to you with how you leverage your newly inherited connections and don’t forget that you are the one who is showing up for that new interview or launching the startup. Aside from being a tribute to Robin, this post is to enlighten other young aspiring female professionals such as myself, on how acquiring a mentor can enable women to receive equal opportunities that men naturally receive and how personally/professionally rewarding it can be when you find the right mentor.
Below are my favorite Sandberg quotes from chapter five:
Instead, we need to tell them, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”
“Asking for input is not a sign of weakness but often the first step to finding a path forward.”
“Anything that evens out the opportunities for men and women is the right practice.”
Thank you for reading yet another ethreone. post.
Until next time, work hard and be nice to people,