The Same Gender Mentor Dilemma

Let’s get you a mentor, Farah. It’ll be a female mentor.

*camera pans to my confused face* Why a female?

————–

Throughout my career, I have been blessed with several mentors, formally and informally. There are those individuals who I have sought, as well as those who have found me. Whatever the route, the end result has been a mutually beneficial relationship (I like to think) for the both of us. The best mentors are the ones who are found organically.

When specifically seeking same-gender mentors for the sake of that fact alone- is when problems can arise. I was honored and incredibly grateful to attend the 2015 Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston and I recall feeling like the sessions were preaching to the choir. The workforce is made of a mix of men and women, however, the higher up in a company’s ladder, the more men are present. If men who are the top of the companies are not present in conversations focusing around diversity in thought in the workplace, and how to train younger women to become stronger leaders, then the conversation becomes much more marginalized and relegated to “Women’s Only Circles”. In order to have effective change in the workplace, it’s important for older men to understand younger women’s struggles in the workplace, and women to understand younger men’s struggles in the workplaces.

A fond memory I have of a previous mentor, Chad Richardson, happened while working at Dell EMC. While practicing a product presentation with him, at one point, he asked me a question on customer support. I distinctly remember giving a “cutesy” response back, overstating our services a bit. Chad corrected me immediately, telling me to “Cut that sh** out”. He made sure that I knew not to practice this language in a presentation, as it would have lead to immediate discredit from customers. That type of invaluable, raw feedback was delivered to me by a male, not a female.
What I propose and what I would like to see is male and female mentors/mentees, which requires a stronger empathy of understanding the other gender’s pain points that they will experience given their unique industry and customer set. In my case, having a male mentor who understood what I would have to face as a female sales engineer was an incredible experience for me, because I felt truly comfortable in his presence to be able to grow from his knowledge.

lucyethel_i_love_lucy

 

Because, at the end of the day, people are the core of the world, not technology.

TL;DR- to anyone out there who is looking for a mentor, don’t choose one based on gender alone. Mixed gender mentors can provide fantastic value to you. As always, if it’s not working out, know when to cut the ties and move on.

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