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Ladies, Stop Looking Only For Women Mentors, Coaches, and Role Models

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March 2013: Women of the Border Security Force
Lead the Beating Retreat Ceremony at the Wagah Border

Time and again we hear:

1. Why are there limited women role models?
2. How do we find more women mentors and coaches?

As a woman who has worked ~30 years in male dominated industries, companies, and teams, I have rarely sought out a female mentor or coach. My role models have been successful people. People. Not just women. People who have skills, value systems and behaviors that I admire, and want to learn from.

This could possibly be because 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago there were even fewer women in senior roles in the companies I worked for or networked with than there are today. So I am even more surprised that in this day and age, where there are so many more women in the workforce, women are still looking for gender specific mentors, coaches and role models.

Why are women seeking other women to be their mentors & coaches?
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Gel Pen Coloring by Mercy Valson

1.  I believe women-only programs, tho’ well intentioned, have built a belief that only women can and will help other women grow personally and professionally. The question to ask is whether you believe that as a woman you can grow without the men who can form upto 95% of the workforce in many companies and industries.

2.  Women tend to think that only other women can understand them. Not true. This is like saying that only a parent can understand another parent. Any rational adult can understand and empathise with another adult.  Gender is not the determining criteria.
3.  A successful woman can tell another woman how to get there. First, no one can tell you how to achieve what you want. They can help you find the way by asking you the right questions. You have to do the analysis and introspection, define your goals and time frame, acquire the skills needed, etc. All this has nothing to do with gender.
4.  A woman can aspire to be only as good as another woman.  Really??? If that was true, we would never have had a woman astronaut or Prime Minister or pilot or a hundred other careers that were male-only bastions. Women who are passionate about what they do and want to achieve their dreams, don’t care about whether there are other women in that space, they just go out and create space for themselves.

Why looking for women mentors only may slow your growth?

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1. Often there are too few women in management to be able to mentor women across all levels in an organization. A mentoring relationship is a long term relationship and needs investment of time and energy. It is also a two way relationship. If you are a woman looking for mentoring from a senior woman leader, then remember she can’t mentor 10 – 20 people. At best she can effectively mentor 2-4 people at a time. Are you one of the 2 people who she can and should mentor?
2. If you are working in a male dominated industry, would it not be better to have a male coach or mentor? Someone who can help you navigate the system, a system that he is familiar with, whose language and nuances he has worked with and through? Wouldn’t it be great to have a male advocate in a male dominated company? I have found many male colleagues who are great developers, nurturers, supporters, and promoters of woman. We need to identify and reach out to them.
3. A role model is a role model. They are achievers. They have value systems and behaviours that are admirable. They have lived real lives and have real stories to share. Finding the right role model to emulate is far more important than the gender of the role model. Looking for gender first limits your choices of role models and hence your growth.
4. Looking for only a woman mentor or coach may just be re-enforcing your subconscious belief that your gender is more important and dominant (or restrictive) that your knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitude. Question why you are looking for a woman as a mentor or coach or role model. If it is because you feel comfortable talking with women, it may be time to break out of your comfort zone. If breaking out of your comfort zone is difficult, then actively find a woman mentor or coach to help you – there are many good women out there.
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There are times when a women mentor or a women only forum is just what you need. A place to voice your aspirations, challenges, and struggles with other women. A zone where there is the comfort of privacy or people just get it without too many explanations. Just as you need this space, so do other women. Find these forums and actively work in them, mentoring other women. Sometimes paying-it-forward is the best way to find the right mentor for yourself.

So, don’t wait for your company to start a women’s network, or a mentoring / coaching program.  I believe women would benefit from spending some time, ideally facilitated by a professional, charting their goals, understanding their competencies and what they need to develop to grow, finding the best mentor or coach, learning how to approach them, and committing to working with mentors and coaches.

Just as all professionals invest in acquiring qualifications & certifications
I am asking women to invest in personal coaching or mentoring
Within and outside their organizations
By a coach or mentor, whatever their gender