Six considerations for women mentoring other women

Pat Mitchell dives into the fine points of being a woman mentor on Breaking Glass

In the early 1970s, Pat was a single mother in New York City who was under-qualified and over-educated for an entry level career in media. Through perseverance and taking some big risks, she eventually landed a position at NBC and over the course of three decades thereafter, she went on to build a distinguished career as the first woman to lead PBS, CNN, and to produce the first national program hosted by a woman telling the stories of women. She has won Emmys, Peabodys, and been nominated for Academy Awards. The focus of our discussion with Pat was how she used her career and platforms to further the stories and voices of women at a time when it wasn’t encouraged or popular. She took huge risks and pushed up against a deeply patriarchal system to open the door for more women in media. Today that shows up in her work as the co-founder and curator of TEDWomen, her book Becoming a Dangerous Woman, and the daily work that she’s doing to cultivate a network of women supporting other women. This lady is a legend, and she inspired us to round up six things women should consider when mentoring other women.

  1. Being a mentor means matching your skills and interests – Make sure your knowledge and insights will be a good match for you and your mentee. Don’t agree to mentor someone if you don’t feel qualified or capable of answering her questions. It is also important to make sure you can relate to your mentee in interest and personality, and it is okay to decide not to be a mentor if you do not feel a strong connection.
  2. Being a mentor takes time – Make sure to clarify logistics of this relationship, such as what forms of communication are preferred. This will save both women time and energy as the relationship evolves. Also, know that being a mentor is often for the long-haul, and the relationship you form with your mentee will hopefully last for years to come. Be sure you’re prepared to make that commitment.
  3. Being a mentor does not mean you have all the answers – More than answers to existing questions, mentees most often need guidance on what questions they should be asking in the first place. Teaching your mentee to think critically about specific subjects and questions, as well as who else they can connect with for more information will enrich the value you offer as a mentor.
  4. Being a mentor can result in lifelong relationships – Mentors and mentees often become collaborators after some time. A traditional mentoring relationship has the potential to evolve into a mutually beneficial relationship, and sometimes even a true friendship. While this will not always be the case, becoming a good mentor could lead to much more.
  5. Being a mentor encourages entrepreneurial thinking – When a mentee sees you in a position of knowledge and influence, it impacts the way she thinks of leadership. Gaining important career insights from another woman will encourage her to aim high and believe in her own career capabilities that much more. 
  6. Being a woman mentor means you see the world differently from men – There is no question that as a woman you hold key professional insights that a male mentor might not. Your experience as a woman in the workforce has been different. Being a woman mentor, you will be able to pass along key insights to your mentee about how to navigate certain scenarios, for instance how to stand out as a woman in a male-dominated field or situation.

To learn more about how and why women mentoring other women is so important, check out these articles on Forbes and TED.

Listen to Pat on Breaking Glass