Girlboss. Lady boss. Mompreneur. No matter what you call them or how you feel about the cutesy nicknames, there’s no denying that women entrepreneurs are having something of a cultural moment. From the Netflix Girlboss TV show, featuring a woman who starts her own fashion empire, to the real-life moguls rounding out Forbes’ list of the most powerful women in business, women have made it into the big time, and people are paying attention.
The best part about more women breaking into the ranks of boardrooms and corner offices? It puts us in a position to recognize and identify other capable women that we can pull up to the top with us. Here are some specific ways that we can act as mentors to our fellow females:
- Be open about your own gender-related struggles.
Don’t think you’re doing a good deed by sweeping any difficulties you’ve faced as a woman under the rug. If women don’t hear other women talking about how frustrating and lonely the working world can feel sometimes, they’ll wonder if there’s something wrong with them instead of with the situation. So tell them about the time when you were the only woman in the room and you felt like everyone doubted your right to be there. Tell them about the time when you felt like your voice wasn’t being heard. Tell them about how hard it is to succeed both in the office and at home, and about how sometimes on your worst days you’ve felt like you’re failing at both. Most importantly, tell them that you pushed through it and stuck with it.
Feelings of gender-related frustration are completely normal, and it’s important for women to hear that from more accomplished women that have lived through it all. Honesty breeds trust. It also sets expectations appropriately. You may not be able to give her the magic answers to all of the struggles she’ll face, but at least she’ll be prepared to face them.
- Don’t wait to be approached. Look out for high-achieving young professionals and take them under your wing.
Asking for advice from a senior-level professional can be intimidating, and women new to the working world may be unsure about how to broach the topic of mentorship. Instead of putting the pressure on her to make the first step, take the initiative and do it yourself.
First, let her know that your door is always open if she ever needs advice or wants to talk. Remind her that you were in her shoes once, too. Then, take an active interest in what she does. Start small by always asking questions and showing interest in how she’s feeling about work. Ask what frustrates her and what excites her. Walk her through some of the tougher leadership decisions you’ve been making so that she gets an insider’s view on your thought process. Keep the conversation going.
You don’t even need to officially apply the “mentor” label; let your relationship grow naturally.
- Establish a formal support group for women within your company.
From “Lean In” circles to Women’s Issues working groups at work, a more formal affinity group or support group for women can be an excellent way to expand the idea mentorship besides the traditional one-on-one approach. If your company doesn’t already have one, consider starting one.
In this way, you can be one of a group of senior-level mentors that helps tackle company issues head on and encourages women to support each other in the workplace. By talking about your experiences in groups instead of one-on-one, everyone involved will be exposed to a wide variety of advice; different things work for different people. Plus, you’ll develop your own professional network at the same time.
- Never hesitate to give her feedback, even if it’s negative.
As a mentor, one of the most useful contributions you can make to her future success is to give her specific, actionable feedback. Especially in a large and more formal workplace, honest feedback can often be hard to come by.
Don’t just focus on the positive feedback, either. Tell her what she’s doing wrong, and what she can improve on. Tell her that you noticed she seemed nervous speaking in front of everyone, ad recommend some practice tips or that she join a Toastmasters group. Tell her that you think she needs stronger leadership experience, and recommend specific ways for her to improve.
If specific and genuinely constructive criticism comes from someone she respects and who she knows has her best interests at heart, she’s more likely to listen. A true mentor wants their mentee to become stronger, and that means having the tough conversations.