We Also Need Everyday Mentors
Powerful female role models are important as inspirational examples of the great things women can achieve, but admiring these role models from afar can create a distorted sense of what it takes to get to their positions. If you only see these women from a distance, they can appear to be superheroes, which can make you doubt how you, a mere mortal, could ever make it to that position. You need to get to know these women to learn about the challenges they overcame to make it to where they are. However, it can be difficult if everyone is trying to gain access to the same small number of powerful women.
Instead of focusing on powerful female role models, I think it is more important to find a diverse group of accessible mentors to help guide your career. In addition to people who inspire you, you need to find people who have some amount of additional experience that they can share with you. You need both people who have reached senior positions and people closer to your position who can share advice from the vantage point of having recently been in where you are now. You also need someone who can serve as a publicist or champion to help promote your work within the organization and open doors for you. Finally, you need peers who can be sounding boards, and a sanity check, when life gets challenging.
Establishing groups of accessible mentors is also advantageous because you do not have to wait until you have achieved “role model” status to start influencing the careers of the women around you. All of us can identify women who are junior to us, and actively find ways to provide advice and share our experience with them as they establish their careers. In this way, we can create a community that supports women at all levels of their careers.