Last month’s column illuminated the process you take when you discover the places you work, provide services or volunteer do not align with your own personal justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) goals. I included an interview with Keith Dempsey on his decision to change his career path as an example of what this process may look like. Dempsey discussed how a conversation with his mentor helped him solidify his career change from working in academia to following his passion to do JEDI work within his community.
Building on Dempsey’s interview, I want to discuss the importance of mentoring throughout your career. Mentoring should offer four main things to the person seeking and being mentored:
I want to stress that you will need more than one mentor, and that mentor does not necessarily have to come from the same discipline or career. What each mentor provides depends on your personal needs and career goals. I have mentors that aid in various aspects of my career, leadership and personal development. I selected each mentor based on their expertise, my current needs and my future needs. Some mentors I have had from the beginning of my career, and others I have found along my journey as my needs have changed.
When looking for a mentor, you need to be honest with yourself about the following: What are your career needs and goals? Are you willing to do the work to build a relationship with your mentor? Do you feel confident enough to discuss the changes you need to make in the relationship as you evolve? And are you willing to break up with your mentor if your needs are not being met?
A true mentor offers support to their mentee in times of triumph and in times of challenge. A mentor serves as a cheerleader throughout your career to help you navigate the times you are being celebrated as well as the times that you are being marginalized, not being seen and feeling your lowest. As the mentee, your job is to pay attention to whether your mentor is supporting you through the lows and highs of your career. And if they aren’t, you need to find a new mentor.
A true mentor offers introspection for various critical incidents and events that happen in your career (e.g., experiencing microaggressions, being passed over for a promotion, not being seen at work, not being able to progress to the next step). A mentor listens to your perspective as you provide context to these critical incidents and offers solutions and possible next steps. They allow you to vent, cry and be angry, but they also push you to move forward toward your career goals. If your mentor is unable to offer this type of introspection, you need a new mentor.
A true mentor offers access to spaces that you would not have access to or knowledge of on your own. Mentors include you in conference presentations, journal articles, grants and meetings, and they introduce you to people who can further your career goals. Mentors recommend you as someone who can provide expertise, leadership and consultation to organizations. If your mentor is not providing you access in these ways, you need to examine the people whom you consider your mentor and have difficult conversations as to why this is not being offered or happening in your current relationship.
Finally, a true mentor offers opportunities that will help you get to the next level of your career and leadership goals. These opportunities can include award nominations, networking for jobs, networking for leadership in various organizations, and chances for you to sit at tables that you would not typically be able to sit at or even know about on your own. Mentors provide these opportunities free of competition, and they have conversations with you about ways to make the most of each type of opportunity offered. If your current identified mentor has not offered versions of these types of opportunities, you need to talk with them about why this is happening.
This month I challenge you to reflect on your current mentoring relationships and ask whether they are offering you the four basic attributes of a good mentor — support, introspection, access and opportunity. These attributes should be mutually beneficial and should be offered consistently, freely and in the spirit of paying it forward. Until next month!