Why Mentorship Matters and How to Get One

Do you have a mentor?

For far too many women the answer to this question is both perplexing (“Well, I’m not sure if they would consider themselves my mentor”) and saddening.

A LinkedIn survey found that 82 percent of women agreed that having a mentor is vital to the trajectory of their careers.  However, one in five never had access to a mentor, with over half of those respondents reporting that they were never able to find someone appropriate.

For diverse women, finding a mentor can be even more challenging.   

A Catalyst study also showed that women of color face a higher level of negative stereotyping that may impede others from actively aiding them in advancing their careers.  And, that of those women who do obtain mentorship 62 percent cited the lack of an influential mentor or sponsor as a barrier to advancement vs. 39 percent for their white female colleagues.

These challenges result in women of color have limited access to individuals who can help them navigate office politics, build trust and personal relationships needed to have candid business discussions and provide opportunities for increasing skills and exposure.

Here are a few steps to obtain the mentorship we all need…

Jumping in the Game.   For individuals, employees, and entrepreneurs the best way to change the mentorship dynamic, regardless of whether your company has a formal program or not is to seek opportunities to network and connect with others, actively.   This includes but is not limited to joining a business association or group, such as Walker’s Legacy (shameless but necessary plug) or attending programs, events, meetings, and activities sponsored by your company or a business or trade association.  

Be okay with starting the conversation.  Networking can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences.  What do I say? I have nothing to offer! We have all been there.  Don’t believe those little voices in your head, just jump out there and kick it off.  Keep it short and sweet. Something like:

Hi NAME OF PERSON, my name is _______, I am TITLE with ORG.  I have been impressed with your career/organization/journey, and I would like to remain connected to discuss ONE THING.  Would you happen to have a card on you so I can follow-up with you directly?

Now you’re in the game!

Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up.  Getting a business card will be easier than you thought.  Often speakers are prepared to just pass them to anyone who asks as a way to end the conversation.   Use that in your favor but be different. Follow-up! And, when they don’t respond for whatever the reason, follow-up again!  The power of every new relationship is based on two things: 1) whether you followed up and 2) whether you followed up again.

The quality of your mentorship will depend on the quality of your follow-through. What is follow-through?  Put it this way; people spend time with people that they believe will take real, actionable steps with the wisdom they have received from them.   If you come back to your mentor time and time again with the same problem, making no movement or progress, taking into consideration none of their insights what that communicates to them is that you neither value their time or their wisdom.  

A good mentor will turn into a good friend. Mentorship takes time.  Time is one of the most valuable commodities that we have to give to someone.   Giving of our time is an act of care. Care is what you do when someone is more than a transactional relationship when someone is a friend.  Great mentors become great friends along the way. Does that mean that you will be talking to them about every little detail about your life? Probably not. But for the compartmentalized part, for which they are an active participant, you will both grow to evolve your engagements from more formally structured calls to friendly updates, recommendations, and knowledge share.  

When I started my first company at 26, I found myself struggling for the respect I felt I deserved, the access I needed to evolve, and for the support I needed to navigate the entrepreneurial landscape.    When I became a C-level nonprofit executive, my professional experiences were very similar.

Many people ask me why I started Walker’s Legacy.  My answer is simple. I was looking for a mentor; I was looking to create the mentoring opportunities I sought and those I knew my colleagues also needed.

This month, during Women’s History Month, Walker’s Legacy is proud to tackle one of the most significant hurdles faced by professional and entrepreneurial women: access to networks and mentorship support.  We are holding mentor match-making events across the nation. 

I totally think you should join us!

Natalie Madeira Cofield

Natalie Madeira Cofield is the founder of Walker’s Legacy, a global women in business collective for enterprising multi-cultural women.

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Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.