Friday, October 8, 2010

Pay It Forward - The Power of a Mentor

It’s been years since I had heard so many lilting “Yes, Ma’m’s” as last month when I attended the orientation session for the University of Alabama School of Commerce and Business Administration’s Women’s Initiative Program. I’m delighted to be a mentor in this program and I’ve already met dozens of interesting and accomplished professional women who are sharing their time with students. I’m looking forward to learning from the other mentors and the students. Some of the mentors were more seasoned, like me, others seemed to be in the mid-points of their careers, and several were young women who have benefited from the Women’s Initiative Program as mentees in recent years and are ready and able to pay it forward. (Think how our Girl Scouts value getting to work with college girls and those who are just starting their careers.)

The young women in the program are all either Juniors or Seniors in B-School, with varying majors and concentrations - accounting, finance, marketing, etc. Through the Women's Initiative they receive extra opportunities to learn about the world of work that are not covered in the classroom. Some of the info is basic -- resumes, interview skills, what to wear and some of it will be more intrinsic - office politics, weighing career options, field trips, getting to see how a corporation or even a single office really runs. The students can ask questions in a safe environment and build their knowledge base beyond the textbook. Most importantly, the experience should give these young women an extra networking edge when they venture into the job market, and networking is priceless! Each girl is paired with an individual mentor, plus they garner the extra advantage of being able to connect to dozens of the other mentors and other grads who have been through the program. (Sounds a little like having that Girl Scout Gold Award open doors for our girls.)

My mentee's name is Bethany and she's a senior from Atlanta. Bethany is interested in learning more about the not-for-profit sector of the business world. She’s done volunteer work and understands that there has to be a strong business infrastructure to support the good works that get done for the clients. I hope that I can give her practical advice. I want to learn from her about the issues that are near and dear to her and I also want to hear how she and her peers envision using social media in their work lives.

When I graduated from college in the 1970s, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word network with the exception of a TV station or an electrical grid! I moved to a town where I knew no one and just took the luck of the draw with civil service tests, cover letters and my resume. In my first job as a Planner for the State of Alabama’s Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, I was blessed to have a boss who saw my potential and taught me so much about the workplace. He was a mentor and a mensch. I learned so much from him and we still stay in touch with one another.

I’ll keep you posted on my work with the Women’s Initiative over the next year. I’d love to hear from others who have served in formal and informal mentor/mentee relationships. What have you learned from one another?

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