Archive for the ‘Career and Workplace’ Category

When we talk about mentoring, I think we have a tendency to assume that mentors are for people who are young and new to their careers; we make the mistake of thinking that eventually you “outgrow” the need for a mentor. But one thing I’ve learned from my time in Washington, D.C., is that the people I look up to have mentors of their own — and political leaders are no exception.


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) frequently talks about outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Gillibrand replaced as New York’s junior senator, as one of her mentors (Gillibrand made the relationship Twitter-official on Clinton’s most recent birthday). Gillibrand is now one of 20 female U.S. senators — a record number. And on both sides of the political aisle, they all clearly value mentoring. When the women senators sat down for a group interview with Diane Sawyer earlier this month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) talked about how retired Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) volunteered to be Klobuchar’s “Republican mentor” when she first came to the Senate. Now Klobuchar is returning the favor by mentoring newly elected Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE).

At a time when bipartisanship seems rare, what strikes me is that women legislators in both parties acknowledge the need for mentors throughout their careers and encourage other women to become mentors as they advance. The same is true in the House of Representatives. In Secrets of Powerful Women: Leading Change for a New Generation, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) is clear on this point: “Be a mentor. Find a mentor. Get out there and make a difference,” she declares. Later in the same book, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) defines a mentor as “somebody who commits to walk with you and help you become the very best person you can be. … Someone does this for you, and you do it for the next person.”

We also see this theme of passing the torch among female legislators at the state level. At a recent event celebrating New Hampshire’s all-female congressional delegation, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who previously served as New Hampshire’s first female governor, talked about one of her mentors, a female Republican state senator — now Shaheen mentors the woman’s daughter, newly elected Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH).

At AAUW, I am fortunate to work for one of my own mentors, AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz, who also shares her story in Secrets of Powerful Women. And I am proud that through Elect Her–Campus Women Win, AAUW and Running Start connect college women who are thinking about running for student government with role models in their communities, whether they are women who have run for local office, communications experts, or current members of the college student government. As National Mentoring Month wraps up, I encourage you to take inspiration from this proud tradition of women mentoring women in politics and think about the ways you can find and become a mentor. If members of Congress can do it, so can we!

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Network. Develop relationships. Work with a mentor. It’s all great advice for professionals both new and experienced. But professionals on both sides of the spectrum should be aware of another type of relationship: sponsorship.

A great mentor can help you navigate the day-to-day challenges and long-term goals of your career; a sponsor is someone in a high-level position who is willing to use some of their political capital on you. While a mentor can be someone just a bit more experienced and probably a little older, a sponsor needs to have some decision-making power. When it comes to taking risks, having a sponsor to back you up can help you manage possible fallout, making the risk, well, less risky.

Michel Martin, left, the host of Tell Me More from NPR News and a 2012 NCCWSL Woman of Distinction recipient, hosted a show about sponsors that caught our ear.

Michel Martin (left), host of Tell Me More from NPR News, and a 2012 NCCWSL Woman of Distinction hosted a show about sponsors that caught our ear.

A new Center for Talent Innovation study on the lack of diversity in upper management suggests that many leaders who rise within corporations have been picked up by a sponsor.

Having a sponsor may be just what women and people of color are missing when it comes time for a boss to make a hiring decision. The study’s author says that white sponsors tend to be more comfortable choosing protégés from similar backgrounds to them. With little diversity at the top of the career ladder, this alone is a discouraging finding — but there’s more. Women and sponsors from multicultural backgrounds follow an opposite trend, hesitating to choose protégés similar to themselves because they feel people are watching more closely.

The results reveal that, despite no differences from their white peers in ambition, performance, or credentials, only 8 percent of people of color have sponsors compared with 13 percent of white people. Only 20 people of color hold CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies. You can see a similar leadership gap for women in Fortune 1,000 firms in 2012, when women held only 15.6 percent of total board seats. Maybe exposing the trends and how they’re harming women and minorities will help close the sponsorship (and leadership) gap.

Being a sponsor is not just about finding your favorite person and moving them along. It takes a lot of trust. So, potential protégés out there, you still have to earn your way. Prove yourself and take charge of your own career. Understand the difference between mentors and sponsors so that you will be more prepared to foster these types of relationships if they come your way. And if you reach a place where you could be a sponsor, understand the nuances of choosing (or not choosing) a protégé.

Below: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has mentored Michelle Kwan and in 2006 named the iconic ice skater as a public diplomacy ambassador.

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AAUW has made tremendous strides for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) since our founding more than 130 years ago. Over the years, we have produced cutting-edge research, convened discussions with key policy makers, and supported leading female thinkers like scientist Marie Curie and astronauts Judith Resnik and Mae Jemison through our fellowships and grants. Now, with a new STEM partnership and expanded programs for girls throughout the country, our work won’t slow down in 2013.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead.


Partnership with STEMconnector
AAUW is proud to announce that we have become a nonprofit sponsor of STEMconnector, an organization that works to bring together companies, nonprofit groups, and policy makers focused on building diversity in STEM. On January 30, 2013, AAUW will host a town hall discussion on STEMconnector’s latest research report, which analyzes the STEM job market and aims to help connect students to employers. From AAUW’s own research, we know how crucial it is to encourage more women to consider careers in STEM, and we’re excited to join STEMconnector in this endeavor.

Expanding STEM Programs for Girls

AAUW is pleased to kick off 2013 by expanding Tech Trek and Tech Savvy, two wildly successful programs that started at the branch and state levels, to reach girls nationwide:

Tech Trek
This year, Tech Trek summer camps will go nationwide with the addition of five new sites. Tech Trek has inspired more than 9,000 campers since it was founded in 2008 in California. These camps take 12- and 13-year-old girls on a weeklong “trek” to a local college campus for a chance to explore their potential in science and technology. Girls connect with role models through interactive classes, field trips, and workshops led by women professionals. And the camp draws some outstanding experts: Tech Trek campers have heard from many amazing role models, like the late astronaut Sally Ride and former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz.

The new camps will launch in Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington, including in rural areas where programs like Tech Trek are most needed.

Tech Savvy
AAUW’s Tech Savvy program is a day of hands-on STEM workshops and informational sessions for sixth–ninth grade girls and their parents. The conference spurs excitement about STEM and gives girls the inspiration they need to pursue that interest through high school and college. AAUW will be expanding the highly successful program — which launched in Buffalo, New York, in 2006 — with the support of Tech Savvy founder Tamara Brown, who just last year was recognized by the White House for her efforts to increase the number of women engaged in STEM. AAUW is proud that Praxair Inc.’s sponsorship has made it possible to launch Tech Savvy at 10 pilot sites in the coming year.

In a world where gender bias and stereotypes prevent girls from pursuing STEM, these programs really matter. Tech Trek and Tech Savvy help girls at a critical time in their lives: right before they enter high school and begin to choose their educational paths. And the partnership with STEMconnector strengthens our efforts to make STEM fields more accessible for women in the workplace. 2013 is just the start for AAUW and STEM!

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It’s mid-January, and the holiday season is over; children are readjusting to the new semester, and adults are back to work. The lights and trees have been taken down, and malls are back to their normal number of shoppers. As I reflect on this past holiday season, particularly the craze surrounding popular items that the children in our lives request, I am baffled.

Photo by David Shankbone, Flickr Creative CommonsEvery year the same issue arises during my holiday shopping: I stroll down the aisles in search of a doll I can purchase for my 9-year-old niece, and each year I am disappointed with the options. This year my question remained the same: Where is the diversity? To justify my feminist mentality and sometimes too-frequent overthinking of certain matters, I searched “Barbie” on Google. How surprised was I at the results? Not at all. Before my eyes was a page full of white dolls, the majority scantily clad with long legs, small waists, and perfect smiles.

I have always had these issues with doll companies that gross billions of dollars a year and stack toy store shelves for little girls across the globe. Maybe my aversion is a reaction to stories my grandmother has told me, reliving her childhood of sexism and racism. Maybe it’s because of the sense of pride I feel as I look in the mirror at my brown skin every morning. Maybe it’s because I refuse to allow my niece to be socialized to think that pretty girls are only those who are skinny with light skin; long, straight hair; and skimpy clothing — and that women are meant to be mothers and wives instead of engineers and politicians. Maybe it is because of the political, social, economic, and physical attacks that women all over the world survive every day. Maybe it’s because of the grotesque portrayal of women in movies, television, and the media as sexualized beings who deserve little to no respect. Or maybe it’s because the feminist in me would like, for once, to walk down the toy aisle and find a Mexican, Asian, or black baby doll with ease — or a doll whose abilities aren’t limited to being fashionable.

So as I stared at my niece’s Christmas list this year, I skipped over the request for a doll. I challenge all parents and gift-givers to be cautious and aware of what toys you purchase for your children. Are you encouraging your children to follow certain paths in their lives by buying the boys construction toys and the girls toys that reinforce their stereotypical roles as caregivers? Are little girls being socialized to strive for an unobtainable physical ideal represented through popular culture? The answer is yes! From television advertisements to technology to the toys children play with, ideals are being reinforced in our children’s minds. It is time to take a stance and teach children that diversity is beautiful. Each person is unique, and that is what’s normal.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Benita Robinson.

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mentor word cloudTo professional women, the term “mentoring” can be as ubiquitous a buzzword as “networking.” We hear it all the time. Who doesn’t get e-mails about how important mentoring can be to your career? But what does it actually mean? If you occasionally get coffee with some director of communications, do you have a mentor? Are we all walking around like newborn baby birds asking, Are you my mentor?

Seeing as January is the fourth annual National Mentoring Month, now is a good time to figure it out. And who better to guide us than Katy Dickinson, the creator of several highly successful mentoring programs and vice president of MentorCloud?

1. What is mentoring? Better yet, what is good mentoring?

Dickinson says there are three ways to approach the concept of mentoring: sponsorship, coaching, and, well, mentoring.

A sponsor is someone who takes on a certain amount of responsibility for your professional success. Dickinson advises against assuming a mentor is a sponsor. A mentor is not in charge of your career; you are.

If you search “mentor” on YouTube, most of the hits are actually what Dickinson calls coaching, which focuses on building a particular skill. A coach might teach you about public speaking or accent reduction. Mentoring can involve aspects of sponsorship and coaching. But the main goal is to change how the mentee approaches personal and professional challenges by giving her a relationship with a seasoned professional.

Dickinson says the best way to get this relationship is through formal mentoring, in which a program connects mentors and mentees and guides the relationship within a defined structure. The relationship has start and end dates, which helps both parties feel comfortable about their commitment and the attached expectations. It also prevents any lopsided enthusiasm, since both people have voluntarily joined the program.

2. Why is mentoring successful?

It’s no secret that one of the best ways to learn something is by watching someone else do it first. That, in a nutshell, is how mentoring works. The mentor demonstrates how she processes and solves problems in ways the mentee hasn’t thought of. This works on a broader level as well. A mentee can gain the confidence to pursue particular goals because she’s already seen her mentor do it.

Mentoring is also successful because it helps shy people get answers, too. Many of us may not feel comfortable picking up the phone and bothering that communications director about getting coffee. But a mentoring relationship, especially one arranged through a networking service, doesn’t rely on you putting yourself out there for a higher-up’s rejection.

3. How do I choose a mentor?

Dickinson recommends asking yourself two questions: Whom do you admire? And who is walking ahead of you on your professional path?

Pick the right match for you, regardless of location. Dickinson’s research indicates that distance has no bearing on whether or not your mentoring relationship will work. Besides, technology is making it easier every day to communicate with people around the world. You can Facetime with your mentor in New York or New Delhi.

Shoot for the stars, seniority-wise. The higher you go, the more likely your mentor will have additional resources to help the relationship. Like an assistant who can arrange her schedule or a travel budget to come visit you. A gap in the totem pole may also help the mentor. Dickinson says that high-level executives often have staff who hide problems from them (as a nonexecutive, I’ll take her word on this). Through a mentoring relationship, the executive can stay in touch with things at the lower levels.

Lastly, don’t feel pressured to find a mentor who works in your exact industry. Just because your mentor isn’t in your field doesn’t mean she won’t know plenty of people who are. You can still ask for those introductions (one of the most valuable things you can get from a mentor). And you can definitely still learn soft skills like how to run meetings or gain the respect of higher-ups in your company.

BONUS: Five ways to be a good mentee

Your role as a mentee is very important. Here’s how to not mess it up:

  1. Do your homework. Come to meetings with your mentor prepared. Make sure you’ve done any readings she has assigned you. If your mentor makes a professional recommendation, do it — no matter how awkward it may seem.
  2. Ask questions. You want to learn how your mentor thinks and makes decisions — so ask her!
  3. Be respectfully persistent. Dickinson says relationships often fall apart because the mentee didn’t follow up. Don’t worry about hounding your mentor; you already have her permission to bug her.
  4. Be committed. Remember that research about how distance doesn’t necessarily hurt a mentoring relationship? Dickinson explains that because it can be harder to connect at a distance, the mentor and mentee are often inspired to work harder. The effort you put into this relationship will directly affect the results, so make the time needed for the relationship.
  5. Be patient. Often, the mentor learns more in the short term than the mentee will. During your meetings, the mentor may get a concrete understanding of the problems in the profession. The mentee, on the other hand, takes longer to process what she’s learning. Dickinson says it can take up to a few years for the mentee to fully understand the lessons learned from the relationship.

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I did not graduate into a quarter-life crisis. Being handed my diploma and finally moving out of a dorm did not bring on attacks of panic or the specter of moving back in with my parents. I had a focus and a goal. This calm, it turns out, is increasingly rare among my 20-something peers. What I still lack, though, is a mentor.

January is National Mentoring Month, and all the talk of inspiring words of wisdom, thoughtful counseling, and meaningful mentor-mentee relationships is making me think: Who counts as a mentor? And do I really need one? Where do I find one? I have yet to identify an inspirational, advice-giving teacher as a mentor. In fact, I must admit that my only real reference for the term is the highly dysfunctional relationship between fictional characters Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon of 30 Rock — not exactly what I’m looking for.

I’ve made it this far without a clearly defined mentor. But I’m in graduate school now, which seems like prime mentoring time. There are theses to be written, internships to be lined up, and jobs to be found. How do I find someone willing to invest time in me? Professors and professionals are all extremely busy, overcommitted people as it is. I worry I would be asking a lot of a mentor without giving back much in return.

It turns out that many women are happy, even itching, to meet a mentee. When we in the AAUW Fellowships and Grants Department asked alumnae to share their thoughts on mentoring, we got some interesting responses. Koritha Mitchell, a 2009–10 American Fellow, wrote, “People LOVE to help. [They] may not offer answers but often [are] delighted to share when asked.” Jessica Ghilani, another 2009–10 alumna, acknowledged the challenges of finding a mentor: “It can be hard to ask for help, but if you don’t, you might not get what you need!” But what is it exactly that I need that only a mentor can provide?

Kristina Halona (whose mentor was an astronaut) explained it best when I spoke with her about her own experience:

A mentor is someone you can talk about your professional aspirations with. They understand the struggles or situations you are experiencing because they have been there or [are] about to be there. You have a shared experience. Not everyone in your life will understand your struggles, even though someone like a friend or family member may care about you deeply. It is important to have someone in your field who understands.

Most AAUW alumnae say that mentorship had a fundamental impact on their career paths. These women certainly did something right, and perhaps having that extra guidance and assurance from a mentor really was as crucial as people say. In a recent Huffington Post article, Julie Fasone Holder wrote, “What stands at the center of ensuring that more women reach the highest echelons of leadership in the workplace is one simple act: mentorship.” This month, that mantra is being echoed around the country and right here at AAUW. Women in all fields are eager to give back to new students and young professionals because of the crucial mentorship they received.

For women who want to mentor, your openness and approachability is appreciated by mentees. I for one have come to recognize the importance of mentorship not as a means to the end of a dream job but for all the lessons and opportunities for growth it offers. I need to take the advice of Esther Ngumbi, 2007–08 International Fellow: “Do not be afraid to fail. Be passionate, and pave the way for others behind you!” Then, someday, I can return the favor.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

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