Do we need mentors or champions?

Is it time for a shift in the way we inspire each other?

Every single industry will be far better off when men learn from female role models.”

Cindy Gallop, Diversity advocate and innovator

A successful mentoring relationship can offer life- and career-changing benefits to both parties with its exchange of advice, ideas and inspirations.

Megan Quinn — a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist who has had a whole host of personal mentors as well as mentees — likens the importance of a mentoring framework to having “your own personal board of directors”. For Megan, this is a group of people that she feels you should “feel in some way accountable to. Either because they are quite literally your boss, or because you’re impressed with them and the paths that they’ve had.”

The key to finding a mentor is to identify the area you think you most need help in and reach out to that person in that field, being clear about what you need their assistance with from the outset. Why? Well mentors are not your friends because, as Megan points out, “you want them to exceed your expectations so that you appreciate the kind of advice that they give.” Where as a friend might say you look great, you’re doing awesome”, a mentor will hold a mirror up in front of you and highlight all ways you could be doing things differently.

When we asked psychotherapist and grief advocate, Megan Devine why she thought role models and mentors were so intrinsic to our personal growth, she pointed out that “broadening your perspective and seeing what else is possible by looking at the people around us”. She continued by exploring how looking outwards for influence often filters back into our own lives: “[you] fall in love with the world by watching how other people interact with it” she pointed out, which we thought was a beautiful way of illustrating how a mentor relationship can help direct our own inner compass.

For diversity advocate, innovator, and public speaker, Cindy Gallop, the idea of appointing role models is a little more challenging. “Every single industry will be far better off when men learn from female role models…she agrees, “…part of the problem right now is that many senior men in every industry believe that men have nothing to learn from women”.

But on the broader subject of mentorship, Cindy feels there needs to be a much more radical shift in our current cultural dynamic so that women can experience tangible change in the workplace.

Women don’t need mentors, women need champions. She argues. “Women need people prepared to do what men get all the time — which is have other men go out on a limb for them. Women need the person who, behind closed boardroom doors, will slam their fist on the table and say: “If there’s only room in the budget for one pay rise in my department it’s going to Jane, not John”.

Whatever your personal take, one thing’s for sure: We need both mentors and role models available in workplaces and schools now, more than ever…

Role Models hosts candid conversations with inspiring women and is a bi-weekly podcast and event series motivating the next generation of global leaders.

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Photo: Kerstin Musl