Clients consistently ask for women to be equally represented across agency roles, especially leadership. Agencies embrace this goal—not just as something they have to do, but because it will improve every aspect of culture and creativity.
Despite the fact that we’re finally having the same conversation, the pace of progress across nearly every agency is slower than it should be.
How do we expedite the rise of women in agencies?
Mentorship is an important part of the solution. As women, we know intuitively that mentors are critical in providing advice, support and access to new opportunities. The data supports this. The New York Times cited a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology that found that people with mentors are more likely to get promoted.
Yet a study by Development Dimensions International found that only 63 percent of women have had a formal mentor, and that men tend to seek and offer mentorship more readily than women.
We all want to be mentors as well as mentees, not only to help the women around us but to receive support, advice and inspiration. How do we fit the process into overwhelming schedules?
If you’re like me, mentorship feels like a big commitment: finding the right person, establishing a relationship and spending a lot of time together to extract maximum value. Mentorship coffees feel unfathomable in a day where your only break might be a trip to the restroom.
With this conundrum in mind, I want to debunk myths that exist around mentorship. Maybe the modern version of mentorship looks different than we thought and, therefore, is completely doable in our crazy lives.
Mentor Myth No. 1: Mentors must be ‘mega’
There is a sense that the quality of the mentorship experience is directly related to the seniority of the mentor. There’s no question that senior women in organizations have valuable perspectives. They are not, however, uniquely qualified to provide effective mentoring. In fact, people at different levels within an organization—or even outside of the industry—might have the perspective and experience that is most helpful to what’s needed.
Start with what you’re looking to get out of the relationship, then seek the most appropriate person to achieve it. Remember that mentors come in all shapes and sizes.
Mentor Myth No. 2: Mentorship is a monogamous relationship
You may imagine one amazing individual who is with you for your entire career, doling out an endless supply of wisdom. Or a mentee you guide through all stages of their professional life. But I think the real value of mentorship comes from diversity of perspectives and experience.
Just as your job responsibilities and growth opportunities change over time, so should both the mentors you look to for relevant advice, and the mentees who you can most effectively support. Don’t be afraid to expand your Rolodex—you are not cheating.
Mentor Myth No. 3: Men don’t make good mentors for women
I’ve been lucky to have had a number of mentors in my life, and some of the very best have been men. Don’t discount men, not only for their ability to provide valuable advice and support in general but also for perspective on their own experiences with career and family, and why these may be different than yours. It can be invaluable to understand how men move themselves forward, and to take a page from their book.
Mentor Myth No. 4: There’s no ‘me’ in mentor
Many people think of mentoring as the greatest act of altruism. But mentoring also can and should be a two-way street. As a mentor you have every right to engage with a mentee with whom you click, and who can offer you a fresh perspective or inspiration. Being picky is OK, and will ultimately lead to a more effective relationship on both sides.
Mentor Myth No. 5: Mentoring is a huge time commitment
According to multiple studies, lack of time is the primary reason women don’t engage in mentoring. I’ve used this excuse myself.
But we’ve been looking at this the wrong way. If you agree that mentors come in all shapes and sizes (including men)—and that the more people in your mentorship Rolodex, the better—then maybe we can all leverage small moments to get and give the support required. And maybe it doesn’t even need to be in person. I think technology can be a huge enabler here.
At The 3 Percent Conference—whose organizer, The 3 Percent Movement, seeks to increase to 50 percent the number of creative directors who are women and people of color—we launched Fellow, an app-based mentorship community designed to connect women in the industry. Venables Bell & Partners is honored to be the majority owner of Fellow and to have provided all the funding to bring this vision to life. Fellow will broaden women’s access to mentorship opportunities beyond the walls of their agencies and also challenge the perceptions that mentorship needs to happen in person and takes a lot of time. Solutions like this may be the start of eliminating some of the barriers to mentorship, which is pretty exciting.
At a time when everything else is changing in our industry, why can’t our notions of mentorship change as well? Let’s figure this out and get to the future we all want—just faster.