The Future State of Mentorship
Updated: Feb 10
How many of us have them? Mentors. For some reason, I feel like effective mentorship is still hard to come by these days. Now, do not get me wrong; the pandemic has blown the roof off with ample opportunities to meet new people virtually, especially potential mentors; however, it’s not easy to ask someone: will you mentor me?
In 2020 (and beyond), I believe mentorship must be part of developing any child or any professional's life and career. And here is why: we could all use someone in our corner to help shape our potential. This pandemic has opened my eyes to meet so much untapped talent, many eager faces who desire to do more, but what stops them (including myself, sometimes) is having a trusted advisor--- a mentor. The mentoring world can be vast, complex, and even misunderstood by many because having a mentor is different from a relationship you have with a friend, parent, guardian, therapist, boss, significant other, etc. Mentors are people you’ve done the research on, you know something about how or what it took to get to where they are today, you have similar career goals or aspirations, you know they are dedicated to doing the work and you see value in having a mentor, and they see value in being YOUR mentor. It does not seem like a tall order to ask, but it is certainly challenging to find a mentor that aligns with your energy, fuels your career aspirations and overall, feels authentically invested in your dreams and goals.
Inequalities in Mentorship
A while back, I stumbled across this Forbes article, “Why You Need A Role Model, Mentor, Coach, And Sponsor” and it struck a chord with me. Perhaps it would be better to have a team of people who play a part in building up my professional career? In a perfect world, I would love to have at least one person fill each of these roles, but the reality is, it’s not as easy when you still live in a different world, where you are likely the “first” or the “only” one to do it. As a black woman, it can not only be paralyzing but also a rude awakening that many of us are still underrepresented in leadership roles across various industries. What I am not saying is that it takes a leader to be a mentor; it’s bigger than that. What I am saying is it can be hard to visualize a goal or assemble a dream-like team when you don’t see enough representation nor have all the accessibility and tools to build that village around you. The ones I do see (because I do SEE you, queen), they tend to be the only ones everyone can look up to, even if all they can be is an unofficial role model or mentor in my head. We are human, and we all have limits in how much we pour into each other; even Oprah can’t pour from an empty glass or pour into everyone’s glass, equally.
According to Mentor.com, “1 in 3 young people will grow up without a mentor.” For brown and black children to excel in their respective futures, it is going to take more mentors who have an invested interest in giving youths, even working professionals, the proper guidance and hope to be what they want to see --- this is why mentorship is bigger than your day job. All it takes is the influence of a selfless person to shape a malleable mind in seeing their unlimited potential. As we continue to grow, our career aspirations will naturally evolve based on exposure to new experiences and environments, but you can feel defeated at times, if you do not have the right support or team in your corner. Unfortunately, we live in a society that still refuses to SEE potential; they have normalized judging skin color, gender, religious preferences, sexuality, socioeconomic background, and more. Mentors can guide you through those choppy waters, build up your confidence, help you embrace failing fast, and they can be a source of inspiration in your quest to succeed, even when society does not believe in you.
Why I am Seeking a New Mentor(s)
As someone who is on a quest to enhance their career, I wish I had a mentor (or two) in this phase of life. So, what kind of mentor(s) am I looking for? I would love two mentors: 1) someone with a tech/digital strategy background and 2) a UX Researcher/UX Writer, preferably a woman or someone who identifies as black, indigenous or person of color (BIPOC). In the past, I had a few mentors who took stock in developing, coaching, and guiding me through my early career experiences. However, like most things, my career has evolved, and as a senior-level professional who is making a career pivot into tech, I recognize that my needs are different. As I am in the crux of my career change, I have found it challenging to navigate this switch on my own; especially, during a pandemic. I love challenges, and I enjoy working through things on my own, but the truth is, I know a mentor would be helpful right now. Since we all have been craving social interaction, the pandemic has pushed virtual networking to a whole new level; however, it has also presented a new wave of hurdles.
As of April 2020, I have attended roughly 35+ virtual events, discussions, sessions in the technology industry (coupled with a few professional development events, too) with the hopes of making a meaningful match, but I have not found the right person(s) yet. I remain optimistic that I will have a few tech mentors in my corner soon. In the meantime, I have found inspiration to become a mentor to peers who are interested in making a career jump; especially, into roles powered by science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related fields. I have joined a wide range of digital communities that align with my career goals, and I am thankful for these groups that have provided continued support and encouragement to keep growing and keep going.
Be the Change & Pay it Forward
What can we do today to change the state of mentorship for tomorrow’s leaders? We must become mentors. Being part of “the change you want to see” requires we all do the work to make that change possible. It requires stepping up and offering to be a source of support, leveraging your sage advice and connections for good. The beauty of mentoring is that it comes in all shapes, sizes, and formats --- it has even been reimagined and tailored-made to the specificities of the mentor/mentee relationship.
Becoming a mentor can open doors that many future mentees did not even think would be possible; all it takes is someone’s willingness to invest time and energy into someone’s potential. Furthermore, I believe mentorship is one of the critical pieces in solving the workforce inequalities and fixing the fractured talent gap. Companies must review their staffing policies, employee programs, and hiring practices to help level the playing field in creating roles and opportunities for those who go overlooked or undeveloped. I believe companies should look at building out a formal mentorship program; whether it is incorporating an outside mentorship program to help youths or creating mentorship pathways among staff, it could be the stepping stone in designing an equitable future for all. As an individual, I challenge you to explore how you could become a mentor in your community, even if it is all virtual. It takes a bold person to decide to be a changemaker and taking on the responsibility to help someone achieve the best version of their self.
Being a mentor has many great benefits but most of all, it is a rewarding opportunity to pay it forward in a nurturing way: simply taking someone underneath your wing can be the start of a truly magical and life-changing experience for you both.