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Holding the Corporate Ladder for Future Leaders

Everyone was abuzz when LinkedIn published a study last
October revealing that one in five professional women has never had a
mentor. Honestly, those aren’t bad stats. Beyond the headline lies the
truly alarming data. Of the Gen X and Gen Y women polled, only half
reported that they’d been mentored by a more established woman during
the course of their career. Another statistic from the study: 67% of
women stated that they had never mentored another woman simply because
they had never been approached to do so.

Why
is mentorship so crucial for the next generation of female
professionals? For one, there is a shortage of female leadership.
Currently, only 15 Fortune 500 companies are run by women and only 20%
of global senior management positions are held by women. A 2011 Grant
Thornton study 
indicated that the number of females in global senior management roles
has remained fairly stagnant for the past decade, and actually decreased
4% from 2009 data. Mentors can propel their protégés through the ranks
by holding them accountable to their goals; helping them form
advantageous organizational relationships; and by offering insight into
their own way of thinking, allowing mentees the opportunity to become
better strategists and problem solvers.

Corporations like DuPont, Cisco and AstraZeneca have recognized the need for developing their up and coming female leaders.
Through formal mentorship and training programs, these companies
regularly identify and develop high potential women from their
mid-ranks. Xerox went as far as launching an e-Harmony style mentorship
match-making site to help women in the organization find mutually
beneficial mentor/mentee
relationships. Though geographical barriers often prevent these women
from meeting face to face, they log significant time building bonds and
discussing valuable career strategies via email and IM.

Where
does this leave ambitious young women whose organizations have no
formal mentoring plan in place? Well, mentorship doesn’t have to be such
a formal affair. Indeed, the most successful relationships develop
naturally. Even if your company does have a formal mentorship program,
these matches are often not as beneficial as a closer relationship to
someone who has taken a special interest in you and your future. Such
relationships are often coined “sponsorships” in large organizations,
and extend beyond a mentor giving feedback and advice. A sponsor will
use their industry connections and influence within an organization to advocate for their mentee to have added exposure and advancement opportunities.

So
how does a young woman go about finding a mentor or sponsor outside of
an organized corporate program? The following will get you started:


Be seen as a leader. Do your job well, complete assignments on or
before schedule, raise valid points in meetings and offer to pitch in on
projects outside your scope of responsibility. The more value you add
to your organization, the more you will stand out as someone worth
developing.

• Cultivate your image. Use a firm handshake, make
eye contact and choose the best available seat at the conference table. A
potential mentor needs to see that you have the right personal
characteristics to rise to the top of an organization.


Don’t wait around. Is there a woman whom you admire, respect, or seek
to model your career after? She may be part of your alumni chapter, your
aunt’s best friend who also happens to be a VP in your industry, or the
executive you enjoy talking with in the elevator. Whoever she is, let
her know you’d be interested in hearing her thoughts on your career
options, departmental plan or the like. It will be easy to tell whether
she’s receptive to developing the relationship.

• Have
reasonable expectations. Be mindful of your mentor’s busy schedule and
foster a collaborative, give and take relationship. As a level of trust
evolves, your mentor will likely to seek your input on her own work
occasionally. Treating these requests seriously and thoughtfully further
develops your skills, offers your mentor a fresh perspective, and is
often the best way to show gratitude for her investment in you.

Likewise,
if a young woman in your organization shows talent that you’d like to
help cultivate, give her some strategic guidance when the opportunity
presents itself. If you’re met with thanks and a thoughtful
incorporation of your suggestions, she’s likely thrilled that you’ve
shown an interest in taking her under your wing.

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