Like it or not, many women still struggle for equality in the workplace when it comes to pay, benefits and treatment. And particularly in male-dominated fields, women can feel alone in the unique challenges that they face, which is why it’s a great idea to have a mentor to help you work past any hurdles.
Except sometimes that’s easier said than done. Studies have shown that women often have a harder time finding mentors than men. There are a lot of theories as to why that is, but the bottom line is, if you’ve found a good female mentor, you don’t want to let her go.
To keep the relationship going strong, think about creative ways to cultivate—and elevate—the mentor-mentee connection. Here are some ideas, woman to woman, for getting started:
1. Establish guidelines, but know when to break them. Most likely your mentor is a busy woman, much like you. That’s why it is important to set guidelines early on in your relationship in order to manage expectations on both sides. Will you meet once a month for an hour or two? Exchange weekly emails? Or do you expect to have her on speed-dial? (That last one, by the way, probably isn’t a good idea.)
Be upfront about your objectives for the relationship and remember that it’s your responsibility to ensure that you stick to them. At the same time, your career won’t always follow a straight trajectory, so recognize and reach out when you do need an extra bit of advice. If she’s a good mentor, she’ll be happy to provide it.
2. Think outside of the office. This is a professional relationship, but that doesn’t mean that all of your meetings have to take place all suited up in a boardroom. Get to know your mentor enough to find a mutually enjoyable place to spend time together—bonus points if the meetings can be integrated into your existing schedules.
For instance, if you’re both avid runners, your monthly meetings could be a run around a local park, followed by lunch. You could also make a standing date to attend an industry event together, followed by dinner. Do what you can to make meetings both productive and fun; if you accomplish the latter, the strength of the relationship will blossom.
3. Give and take. A successful mentorship is a two-way street. While your mentor is there to offer guidance and sometimes opportunities, the best way to show your gratitude is to reciprocate. Don’t just talk about yourself for an hour then smile and nod and leave with her advice.
Create a conversation; ask about her career and challenges, and when you have something to offer, don’t be shy about sharing. This could be as simple as sending a link to an article dealing with an issue she’s having or sharing the name of a contact who might be able to assist with a project. Having an exchange of ideas will enrich your relationship.
4. Expect some button-pushing. We all need to be challenged to better ourselves; sometimes the best people to do that are those who we keep closest. A mentor should know enough about your professional challenges to be able to pinpoint the weak spots and push you to improve upon them. It’s not always easy to discuss our flaws, but this will, ultimately, strengthen us—and a good mentor knows that.
5. Be friendly. Remember to look beyond your professional relationship—your mentor is, after all, a person just like you. Some of the most rewarding mentorships develop into lifelong friendships. That said, this won’t happen with all mentorships (and that’s OK), but you can strengthen your bond by simply enjoying the occasional casual meet-up.