A great Texas lady once said, “I believe there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” I would modify this to include people of diverse backgrounds. Put simply, I would not be where I am today were it not for the grace of God and the imparted wisdom and guidance of trusted mentors. No person is an island, and success is virtually impossible without the support of those who have been on deserted islands and found their way back to the mainland. As a woman of color, I believe I have a greater responsibility not only to find personal mentors, but also to mentor diverse professionals who are coming down the pike.
Like life, careers have different stages, and each stage requires different skills. My career has come full circle. Having started out as an in-house lawyer, then spending almost 12 years in private practice and now returning to in-house practice, I have had to make major adjustments to my approach. Don’t get me wrong; the things that have stood me in good stead over the course of my career—integrity, commitment to excellence, dedication, humanity, humility, humor and perseverance—continue to sustain me. But understanding the operating environment and successfully navigating it have been absolutely essential to my survival. This knowledge could have come only from the assistance of good mentors.
Mentoring can have many different facets within and outside of your organization. During my career, I have experienced five dimensions of mentoring:
- The technical advisor is the person who helps you with the technical aspects of your job, such as research and writing and presentation skills.
- The champion mentor makes it his or her business to sing your praises to others and help you navigate the maze of your organization’s internal politics.
- The navigator or strategic advisor, who often is someone outside your organization, will advise you over the course of your career.
- The personal mentor is a friend who knows you perhaps even better than you know yourself. This person can provide a perspective that no one else can.
- The en masse or peer-to-peer mentors are those that you encounter at conferences for diverse professionals.
The people who embody these roles are key stakeholders in your career and will help you build confidence and strategic vision—essential elements for success.