Mentorship Is as Important as Oxygen

The more career altitude you gain, the more necessary supportive relationships become

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As you pound the pavement and scour the Internet in search of a job, client or opportunity — an important task to add to your to-do list for career advancement is securing a mentor.

While the job landscape has changed with the advent of social media, what a mentor does has not. A mentor is still someone who has specific skills, knowledge and abilities to help groom you for success, provides strategic business advice and assists you with the tools to negotiate and conquer the corporate terrain. A mentor can be especially helpful for women who have the two-fold challenge of navigating the sexism of the business world while still maintaining a home and children. Choosing the right mentor will help maintain sanity as you climb the ladder.

“For African Americans mentoring is like oxygen; mentorship helps one uncover the opportunities and possibilities that are beyond the stratosphere,” says Kimberly Reed, human resource consultant and managing partner of The Reed Development Group.

A successful mentor will be compatible to her mentee, accomplished, connected, and available, and someone who also uses an innovative approach to maneuver the politics and drama of the corporate world. With mentoring you can achieve the following: creating a blueprint for your long-term career goal; securing invitations for the “right” networking functions; mastering the art of negotiation; and winning tips to climbing the corporate ladder.

“Mentoring is coming from an authentic place of service and pouring into an individual the necessary tools [etiquette/protocol, networking, strategic alliances, wellness and career coaching] for winning in a male-dominated world and a near-to-invisible culture for women,” says Carol Harvey, mentor advocate for Delta Sigma Theta sorority (Philadelphia chapter), and manager of admissions for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

A mentoring relationship is not just a one-way street. You, as the mentee, must play a strategic and proactive role in their professional development, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency goes on to say that in order to take full advantage of a mentor/mentee relationship, a mentee must be open to feedback and coaching.

“Mentorship is a developmental relationship, says Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell, Ph.D., founder and president of ASCENT-Leading Multicultural Women to the Top, and author of Career GPS: Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape (Amistad; $25.99). “It’s a dance. It’s like any other kind of relationship; you have to get to know someone. The mentor shares his or her wisdom and knowledge. You share your perception of what’s happening in your company from your level. Look for mentors around you. You need allies, colleagues, and peers. Mentors are supposed to support you. That support is circular, not linear.”

As women we must openly celebrate each other, formulate healthy networks and relationships. It is critical to have a mentor, however, it is crucial to give back and become a mentor. To get involved today, check out

According to HHS, a mentor should possess:
– Strong interpersonal skills
– Organizational knowledge
– Technical competence
– Strong leadership skills
– Sense of personal power
– Ability to maintain confidentiality of mentoring relationship
– Willingness to be supportive and patient

Karen Taylor Bass, The PR Expert, provides entrepreneurs, corporations, and mompreneurs with essential branding, marketing, and public relations coaching; and Follow Karen’s tips and Caviar & Chitlins moments at Twitter,

  • It’s very challenging for the self-employed professional organizer to find a mentor in her field because its so ‘female’ and so competitive. Do you have any recommendations?

    • Cheryl,
      Thanks for your response to the blog.

      Here are a few suggestions:
      1) Seek a mentor outside of your field, gender and race
      2) Volunteer at various organizations (a great way to find a willing and meaningful mentor)
      3) Select a mentor outside of your boundaries and utilize technology to interface via skype, email, etc.

      Best of luck.

  • Wendy

    My journey includes some amazing mentors that I owe so much too. They have guided me along the way and I intend to pay it forward by mentoring other women in my field. Thank you for this article; it’s a reminder and motivator.

    • Wendy,
      Thanks for the comment — feedback is the pulse of the blogs. I appreciate you.

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  • A.Brown

    I never hear anything about the men needing mentoring. Every time I view an article or hear a newscast the subject is always on helping women. Now, don’t get me wrong I love women-my mother and grandmothers are one-but men need mentors in business also especially men in their 30s and 40s in order to continue the work of the generation before us. The “Conversation on Men mentoring Men” needs to begin.

    • You are correct, however, my beat is women, as it relates to: re-invention, branding, public relations, and mommy-hood. Black Enterprise has been a leader and advocate for mentorship for both women
      and men in the magazine/digital space. Thanks for the comment.

  • Maurice

    I have been a big fan of BE for a very long time. I like this topic on mentorship, I am actually looking for a good business mentor in the Washington D.C area, do you have any idea on how to locate any person or organization.

  • Great article Karen!!!

  • Brahmin

    I believe everyone needs mentors. However, I have spoken with my boyfriend about false mentors. About those who really want the adulation but will not foster your career. In fact, I shared a few cases of “go slow promoters” the belief that you should not go faster than I did when I was your age or position.

    He agreed he had witnessed a little bit of that. In fact, he was pretty relived to know I felt the same to have someone to confide in. I am a young woman who hit management while I was in my twenties and for those before me of color who this was not possible for them when they were my age…I sometime get “who those she think she is.”

    It is a slight racism between our own because if they see a person in their 20s in management of another race they don’t think twice about it.

    So when my boyfriend was up for a major position that was a very sexy post he didn’t hesitate to ask his mentor for reference. I really tried to lobby against him using this person. Some of the things , Manrtin had said and done demonstrated that he was a go slower. And being that Martin was just fired and in a bad place I thought this was a recipe for disaster.

    The reference interview was given and Martin called my boyfriend right away. He invited him to lunch to bond but all the while he spoke badly of the position. Hmmm. My boyfriend thought nothing of it. But I was concerned, why bad mouth the positon. Weeks later when the positon was not offered to my boyfriend, he requested the reference transcript and low and behold Martin gave a strange reference interview. Any time the interview asked about my boyfriend skills he interjected that he was really the lead on each project. It was very strange interview.

    I would like to see more articles targeted to the MArtin’s of the world. I have had my own Martin, and so have every up and coming African American professional. Our pace will be faster because of the doors that have already been opened by more people than we could thank. But the Martin’s of the world have a lilte more resentment about that fact and sometimes will be for us only until they think they will be passed or upstaged. I thank everyone who went before but you cannot hold a man down without staying down with him.

  • Gwen Kelly

    While I agree mentorship is important to furthering one’s career, if you are in corporate America especially, sponsorship is tantamount to succeeding. And the difference between to two is as different as night and day. It was hearing a speech by PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi that woke me up to that differenece. In describing her climb in corporate America, it was clear that sponsorhsip played a tremendous role in the success of her career. In my current assignment it is something I deal with everyday. It is information that I wish I had 20 years ago. Race and gender aside, I can say I would have crafted a career path that would so very different than the one I am on now.

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