Mentors Can Cultivate Blossoming Careers

When I was in college, I wrote an essay that ended with a quote from a cigarette ad: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Today, I would modify the quote to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby … but you’ve still got a long way to go!”

Great strides have been made in the workplace. There is a greater awareness in the corporate world that a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, but also improves performance. And yet, in many companies, there are few women and people of color in leadership positions. This must change, and it will take all of us to make this a reality. It takes courage to ask questions with an open heart, have honest conversations with coworkers, and acknowledge and overcome our own biases.

We need to confront outdated attitudes that affect people in the workplace. For example, when a mother takes time off to care for a sick child, it’s often viewed in a negative light; however, a man in the same situation would be seen as a good father. Returning to work after I had my first child in graduate school, a professor congratulated me and then added: “Don’t have any more kids. You can’t be serious about science.”

Fortunately, I’ve not encountered many of those situations during my career. However, I shouldn’t have encountered any situation that minimized me or my capabilities because of my gender. Neither should anybody else.

As I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve gained a strong voice. I’ve also learned there are others who are not as strong; it doesn’t mean they are weak; it just means they need help finding their own voice. To that end, it’s important for me support and empower women in the workplace. Early in my career, I worked with very few technical women. While I never thought of my career as particularly inspiring or engaging, I now understand that I have gained an awful lot of experience along the way. If I can help others avoid minefields and mind games, both personally and professionally, I want to share some of the knowledge I have attained.

Connecting with others in the early stages of their career, mentoring, and watching them evolve and eventually succeed, is a great feeling. It’s like planting a flower and watching it grow and blossom. Done correctly, this mentorship will be paid forward. We will all be better for it.