A: Whenever I advise my students to find mentors as soon as they get into the workplace, I often hear things like, “I can’t,” “It doesn’t feel right to advocate for myself,” and “Who am I to them?” The truth is, many senior women in the nonprofit sector are actually complimented when someone comes up to them and says, “Can I get to know you a little bit better?” “Can you tell me a little bit about your career?” or “Can you share some of the opportunities you’ve had and some of the barriers you’ve faced?” People typically like helping others and sharing their experiences.
For women who truly struggle with the thought of advocating for themselves, I advise them to think about it as really advocating for the other people in their lives. Their parents, their children or the family they plan to have. In other words, advocate for the loved ones who need to rely on you for their financial well-being — now or in the future.
I think it’s essential for younger women to actively seek advice from women in senior leadership roles. Just try asking one of us, “Can we go for a cup of coffee?” or “Can we chat after this meeting for five minutes?” I also think that mentoring in the 21st century is a little more fluid than it was years ago. Younger women on my campus know that they can email me anytime or ask me to have a cup of coffee with them. But I’m not the only one they can ask. Having several senior people you can turn to for advice just makes sense. It doesn’t have to be so formal, just bring us into the conversation. I think the one woman, one mentor approach has become a little outdated, and especially since there are many ways we can now interface in mentoring.