I’m not looking for just anyone to mentor me. I am looking for someone who understands what it means to be different from one's colleagues. I am looking for someone who empathizes, who understands that it is not easy to navigate a dominantly white corporate world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want a mentor that looks like me, I’m saying I want a mentor who understands how it feels to always be in the minority — in a way, to be the underdog. Why do I insist on this? Because I truly believe that if you can put yourself in the shoes of someone of an underrepresented group, the quality of mentoring you’ll give me will be richer, mutually fulfilling, and definitely much more useful.
I will also be able to better implement the guidance you give me. Let me explain. A few years ago, a white male mentor of mine advised me to get a golf course membership to be able to mingle with top business executives here in Switzerland. I went ahead and got the onerous membership, but quickly found out that there were barriers to me permeating that group.
These people had been friends since kindergarten. They’d been to the same schools and universities and had done internships in the same companies. Their families knew each other — sometimes even intimately. Try as I may, I was always seen as an outsider and never managed to get in. My mentor took it badly. He did not see nor understand why I couldn’t get into the group and kept telling me to try harder.
The reality is, it was me a black woman that that community of mainly white male executives did not like or was not ready to accept. For them, black women were singers and dancers and maybe even escort girls, they were certainly not your next CEO.
Now I know some would say that I should have stuck to it and made them see me as their next CEO, but the fact is, what is the best use of my energy? Trying to change the points of view of a school of arrogant, entitled white privileged men, or find another route to make an impact on the world. I chose the latter.
Coming back to my mentor experiences. So, whenever we had our mentorship sessions, I felt that Trevor, my mentor, didn’t understand that the way I experienced the corporate world as a black woman, was very different from the way he, a white man did. We participated in an endless amount of work meetings where he commanded respect and attention whenever he opened his mouth, and I was spoken over or disregarded whenever I opened mine. Whenever I would bring up this topic in our sessions, he would berate me:
«Not everything is about race Rebecca, not everyone looks at race».
The reality is that I only ask to be proven wrong on this one, but when I looked across the company I worked at and saw very few black and brown people in senior roles, it did beg the question: why aren’t there more? Especially given that in society overall, there are more.
Another mentor I had was clearly in it for his image. He wanted everyone to know that he was mentoring a black woman so he couldn’t possibly be racist or sexist. So yes, performative mentorship is a thing, and trust me, it’s an odd experience. You feel like you are being used to further someone’s political agenda. You don’t get anything out of that mentorship, except learning that you never want to be caught in that web of deception ever again. Trust me, being part of this type of performance is an unpleasant feeling.
And then there have been mentors that have been clearly interested in seeing if they could get me into bed. Under the guise of saying they wanted to mentor a black woman, they thought it would be a good opportunity to try a black woman too. Needless to say, this has been one of the most disappointing and disparaging of all my mentee experiences. Mentorship sessions with a side sexual harassment and fetishization are a truly traumatic experience.
So today, I’m making a plea. I’m seeking an honest to God mentor who understands. Someone I can learn from and someone who can learn from me. For the relationship to be sustainable, it needs to go both ways.
I would love to find someone who is unafraid to have those uncomfortable discussions around social justice, race, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and gender inequalities but to name a few. I’d like to find someone open-minded, who acknowledges and is aware of all the privileges that they might have. I would like to find someone who understands the power dynamic in the world and in the workplace. Someone who sees how white supremacy and white privilege determines who has power and who does not, who is immediately conferred respect and who isn’t, who is immediately trusted and who isn’t. I would love to have a mentor who simply understands, for it is only then that that mentorship will help us both meet our full potential.
If you are reading this and know that you are this type of a mentor, please reach out to me, I would love for you to mentor me. That would be the best Christmas and 50th birthday gift that I could ever wish for. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for reading my perspective.