Mentee to Mentor: Enhancing your Career through Diverse Perspectives

Guest contributed by Financial Women of San Francisco Board Member Shelby Duncan

A few years ago , I discovered the Financial Women of San Francisco (FWSF), a community of women who work in financial services and are dedicated to advancing the careers of women.

After learning about the organization and the importance of their mission, I applied for a scholarship and was fortunate enough to become a recipient. Not only did I receive financial support, but I was given the opportunity to work with a mentor. I had been fortunate enough to have informal mentors throughout my college career, but was extremely fortunate to be given three women from FWSF, all in varying stages in their careers, lives, and outlooks, to support me as formal mentors as I stepped into the corporate world for the first time. The wealth of knowledge and combined experience that they were able to share taught me an insightful and valuable lesson – the greater my mentorship network, the more I could learn and subsequently contribute to my community.

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

I applied this knowledge as I began my career – identifying mentors, creating partnerships across my organization, and directly expanding my network by asking for further referrals. I built mentoring relationships with C-Suite men with 30 years of corporate experience, senior women of color seeking to innovate within financial services, and hard-working software developers beginning their careers in the United States having transitioned from careers in India. In building these relationships across a diverse community of people I have been able to see life through many lenses and have benefited from others’ knowledge, intelligence, innovative thinking, and in some cases, their mistakes. The diversity of their perspectives has allowed me the freedom to be more creative and identify solutions to complex problems. The balance in the advice I have received has made me confident that I am being steered in the right direction by the leaders in my life.

For several years now, I have continued to foster my relationships and identify new mentors. As I have progressed in my career, I have had the opportunity to be a mentor myself and have enjoyed helping mentees as they strive to create and meet new career goals.

Here are my steadfast tips and tricks for being a successful mentee:

1. Give back to your mentor – Ask yourself, “What can I do for my mentor?” Mentors set aside time, share contacts and other resources in support of your growth. It’s imperative to identify opportunities to give back and support your mentor. This can come in the form of supporting an organization they are part of, for example volunteering time; supporting them at a speaking engagement by sharing the event with your network and introducing them to people you know; or introducing them to one of your other mentors.

Oftentimes, mentees believe they don’t have much to offer their mentor based on their age or level of experience – but that is not the case! Time, energy, and a fresh perspective are important resources to share with your mentor.

2. Seek diverse mentorships – Leverage your network to identify diverse mentors. Look across industries, levels of experience, age, gender, and ethnicity to cultivate a well-balanced outlook.

3. Maintain the relationship – Building relationships is easy, but maintaining them requires thoughtfulness and time. Be sure to establish a plan with your mentor to determine how often they would like to meet, a location that is convenient for them, and always be willing to treat for coffee or lunch. Ask thoughtful questions about their work, and frame questions that ask for advice. Get to know them, as they are investing their time in getting to know you!

Mentorships are invaluable relationships that are imperative to growing, maintaining and propelling your career. I know that my successes are not solely my own, but a function of the leaders who support me. With that, I encourage you to reflect on the mentors in your life, identify opportunities to gain new mentors, and consider becoming a mentor yourself.

I recently read an amazing book called “We Should All Be Feminists” and here the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (LINK PLEASE TO BOOK) states,
“Today, we live in a vastly different world. The person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes.”

We Should All Be Feminists, to me, is one of the most critically important works I have read. Written by an immensely insightful and accomplished author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, deeply inspires me as her work is centered on the empowerment of women and their use of community as a tool to reach their objectives. She acknowledges that the collective is more powerful than the individual and that diversity – in gender, ethnicity, culture, and age – are some of societies’ greatest assets. I couldn’t agree more.