Much has been written about the giving and receiving of advice so it’s hardly surprising that a number of mentoring myths have been created. From Cicero to Joan Rivers to Oscar Wilde to Khalil Gibran. Statesmen, philosophers, playwrights, thinkers, business people, celebrities and politicians all have produced oft quoted, but equally confusing and conflicting sound bites which are then applied globally.
So not unsurprisingly “advice giving” is also associated with a great deal of cynicism:
Don’t follow any advice, no matter how good, until you feel as deeply in your spirit as you think in your mind that the counsel is wise. Joan RiversWise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it. Benjamin FranklinI am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes. Edna St. Vincent Millay
The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself. Oscar Wilde
4 mentoring myths that create misunderstandings
If the value of mentoring is queried generally, then the value of mentoring for women is scrutinized in some circles even more closely. Mentoring myths become even more widespread. It’s time to look at these sweeping generalizations which don’t apply to all of us. They not only cause confusion but can end up trapping us.
#1 It’s confused with networking
“Personally, it is akin to socializing with a purpose, nothing more”
Now isn’t that networking? The mentoring process if carried out properly will have specific objectives related to the personal development needs of the mentee and ideally linked to the requirements of the organisation. If it becomes socializing with a purpose something has gone wrong somewhere, usually at the expectation and then training point. The notion that a mentor is a warm and fuzzy BFF is one that is widely misconstrued.
Pru Merrick, Director of a London-based design agency wrote:
Although it’s helpful to like your mentor, for an effective mentor mentee relationship, it’s not even necessary. It’s important that you respect her, she treats you with integrity and supports you to meet your goals.
#2 Women don’t need fixing
Some commentators say that women “don’t need fixing.” This is a sort of “red white and blue Brexit” statement. It means nothing. It is centred around a very valid objection against trying to shoehorn women into male coded cultures. The reality is that both men and women need to create a gender balanced culture and all of us (unless we are exceptional) need competence training as part of a continuous learning process to achieve that.
Some women need to enhance their skills and so do some men. We will have different needs. No one needs fixing. When men mentor women they need to be trained in unconscious bias management and given an understanding exactly what women experience in the workplace. They are frequently very unaware. As there are a growing number of women are in organisations at all levels, men need to become aware of the differences in communication style for some women. No, not all. Equally women need to understand how some men communicate and deal with issues. Not all men are alpha males and not all women fit into soft pink skill gender stereotype boxes. We have get out of rigid and out dated thinking driven by unconscious bias about how men and women are supposed to behave. There is a spectrum of behaviour and both men and women lie on it.
So, mentors can be very helpful to many women to grow their skills.
#3 Women are over mentored
Others say that women are over mentored and under sponsored. Once again this is a vague generalization which doesn’t say much. It might be the case in international conglomerates where women are doing everything right, but still not getting the top jobs. But most women don’t work for them. 90% of European businesses are SMEs, which provide less support for either training or mentoring. So there is indeed a mentoring need for many women.
#4 Mentoring is for hi-po women
Many organisations allocate a mentor to women who have been identified as having long-term potential. The knowledge, advice, and resources a mentor shares will depend on the format and goals of a specific mentoring relationship. Experience has led me to believe that most people (although there are exceptions) tend to seek support when they have a problem and this is the moment that organisations allocate support. By that time it is quite often too late. This is not to say that there is no place for situational mentoring. It can be a very effective form of support, although this is frequently confused with coaching.
Read: How to find a mentor
But probably the best time to look for a mentor (or mentors) is when everything is going well and at a more junior level. Many women with the right level of support should be encouraged to look for a mentor as early as possible in their careers. Very often women are challenged by issues not directly related to job or career performance, but broader situation related to workplace situations and office politics.
If a company won’t provide one then, I would recommend that all women have their own “Board of Advisors” to support them on an ad hoc, but ongoing basis. They will come from different sectors or parts of a professional or personal life and will change during the course of a professional life time. That way the focus can be the future rather than on the challenges of the present.
So if you are even asking when is the right time is for a mentor – I would say right now. Look for a mentor when you think you don’t need one. And the earlier the better. But please but never let anyone make you think you need fixing.