By Tanis Cornell
Three accomplished Dallas women executives discussed what it means to both have and be a great mentor at the recent EWF Dallas annual leadership breakfast. They also shared insights into their own career journeys and sparked a lively panel discussion. As women rise to more senior levels, whether as a business owner or corporate executive, “giving back” in the form of mentorship should be on our agendas. Lifting up others benefits all of us.
Here are my Top 10 takeaways from the panel discussion and the thoughtful reflection of our panelists:
- Learn to ask. Tammie Briscoe, a Vice President with BT, shared the story about how she wouldn’t have her current role unless she had specifically asked to be considered. She wasn’t on the radar for the position because “assumptions” were made based on her past roles and experience. However, when she spoke up she got on the radar and was ultimately successful in securing the position. Trude van Horn, CIO of NCH Corporation encouraged women to ask for a raise and greater salary increases, not just wait around until it’s offered. The fact that women still earn only 75 cents to a man’s dollar won’t change “until we change it”!
- Take the leap. Jennifer Chandler, Market Executive with US Trust said if you are comfortable in your current position, it’s time to seek a stretch assignment. Our greatest times of learning are when we walk into a role not knowing everything on the front end. We learn by “doing”. Figuring it out is what builds confidence. Jennifer encouraged the audience not to hold back – when looking at a career move women tend to wait until they feel they’re 100% ready whereas men tend to take that leap. Trust yourself and take the leap.
- Seek mentors both inside and outside of your company. Internal mentors are excellent for helping you understand how you are perceived within the company and may serve as sponsors for helping you gain visibility for that next promotion or a special project. External mentors can broaden your perspective and are a “safe haven” for discussions outside of the political environment of your workplace.
- Go after what you need to know rather than just the person you like. What do you need to learn and who’s the best person to teach you? Need to better understand the P&L? Seek someone in finance. Interested in operational efficiency? Perhaps an IT leader is a good resource for you. Your mentors should be diverse and not someone just like you.
- Seek out both male and female mentors. Female mentors can often provide insight and perspective that simply can’t be had from our male colleagues. While the panel felt that in most cases their female mentors had been most valuable, they stressed the need for both male and female mentors as they will have different approaches and perspectives.
- Mentors aren’t forever. At different times in your career you’ll need different kinds of mentors. These don’t have to be lifelong relationships although often they are.
- Have a plan for your mentoring relationship. How do you want to spend the time? A specific plan and understanding exactly what you want to learn will be far more productive than general discussion and chit chat.
- Rethink stepwise development. All three panelists agreed that we need to reframe our journey to a “career lattice” that may require steps sideways to acquire needed experience and learn new job functions. The higher in an organization you go, the broader the knowledge required to develop strategies that encompass many different departments and functions.
- Seek to become a mentor to others. Pay it forward. Even younger women have perspectives to share and you may be able to offer mentorship to peers or even superiors that need your particular expertise. Support other women on their journey. Leave cattiness and backbiting behind.
- Don’t apologize for your position on things and claim your power. Speak up, utilize your network, and believe in your own capabilities.
I left the breakfast inspired by the passion and leadership that Tammie, Trude and Jennifer bring to their organizations and teams. Their commitment to mentoring others along the way is making a difference in developing the next generation of women leaders.