By Krystal Covington, MBA
I still remember Ms. Green. She was a funny, authentic and an academically-minded woman who taught my science class in 6th grade. Science was one of my favorite courses because it allowed me to explore, ask questions, and see the many gray areas in the world around us. I naturally became drawn to her as a teacher who helped introduce me to new and exciting topics.
After learning about my experience at a summer math and science camp I’d attended at a local college, Ms. Green saw fit to introduce me to the world of science fairs. Together, we created and executed a winning submission earning me 3 awards that included savings bonds that helped me with living expenses when I got to college.
That was my first experience with the concept of non-familial mentorship. After 20 more years of life I’ve now seen it demonstrated in a number of ways and understand there truly are many different types of mentorship that all come together to help the mentee rise to achieve a vision for success.
I was recently reminded of this truth at a panel event that I facilitated featuring 4 women who had been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. The panel consisted of a diverse group of leaders including Juana Bordas, Gerie Grimes, Ding-Wen Hsu, and Gail Schoettler.
During the event, attended by over 70 women, each panelist described personal stories of giving and receiving mentorship, and each narrative was surprisingly unique.
Some of the key takeaways that caught my attention were:
Our vision of mentorship is often based on a patriarchal standard.
It shouldn’t have been so surprising, but I was genuinely taken aback by a reminder that our vision of what mentorship should be is based on the history of powerful men choosing a successor to whom they impart their knowledge in order to pass on their role as leader in an organization.
I’ve certainly fallen victim to this fallacy during certain points in my life resulting in me stating that “I’d never had a mentor.” I believed this simply because of the same patriarchal paradigm -- believing that to be mentored meant having a high-level corporate leader take me under his or her wing to bring me up to the top. While that can certainly happen, it’s definitely not the only version of true mentorship.
Intercultural mentorship can provide special insights for minorities
While there are general forms of mentorship that are relevant to anyone climbing the ladder of success, there are always nuances to navigating the world around us based on the cultural context we were born to.
Those who are 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation immigrant may find support in connecting with elders who can keep them in tune with their cultural roots while helping them navigate the business world here in the United States. That consistent support can help them to feel rooted in family tradition, connected to their ancestral culture, and accepted for who they are.
As an African American woman I can relate to having mentors in my life who understand the underlying challenges of being a racial minority. It’s not always easy to recognize how to respond to stereotypes, or to handle the discomfort of often being the only woman of color in a room. Mentors provide that support by advocating and showing that they understand.
It takes several kinds of mentors to help us achieve our goals
Many of the leaders on the panel discussed having mentors who approach advice from different angles -- creating a cabinet of sorts with experts who have diverse knowledge and are from specialty areas. As we grow in the different aspects of our lives, we might need to connect with a new type of person to draw from an expertise that is missing in our knowledge-base.
As a mentee, it’s helpful to understand the areas where you need the most support, so you can communicate this to the leaders around you. When you’re clear on what you need the right mentor can raise his or her hand to fill in the blanks of your knowledge base.
The role of mentorship is powerful and nuanced. Conversations such as these remind us of the impact we can make when we support others, and invite us as individuals to actively seek the advice of others who have knowledge to share. With our combined power, we can lift more women up to higher heights to gain greater power, wealth, and confidence in our futures.
I thank Deng-Win Su, Juana Bordas, Gerie Grimes and Gail Schoettler for reinforcing this for our guests that evening.