Yesterday, I heard heard a discussion on the radio about the apparently shocking news that, according to LinkedIn, 19 percent of women (nearly one out of every five!) have never had a workplace mentor.
Which, of course, means that more than 80 percent have had a mentor.
I found myself groping for a place to grab ahold of that and decide whether it meant anything at all. I mean, that sounded to me like a lot of women having mentors. How, for instance, does it compare to guys? I didn’t hear any number relating to that, but Nicole Williams of LinkedIn said this:
we found two different surveys that confirmed that, in fact, men are more likely to get workplace guidance than women. They’re more likely to have a mentor. They’re more likely to be asked to be a mentor. They’re more likely to have asked someone to be a mentor.
Yeah, OK, but I’d sort of like to see those surveys.
Because… and I may be way off-base here… I always thought that mentoring was kind of a, well, a chick thing. In my worklife, I’ve mostly only heard women even talking about it. And I’ve heard them talk about it a lot, and to place great importance on it. And I’ve seen female executives go out of their way to act as a mentor to women below them, and to encourage those women to turn about and do the same for another person of the female persuasion. And I chalked that up to women being more into doing things collaboratively, and helping each other out, while guys tend to be antisocial jerks who wouldn’t go out of their way to help another guy (a competitor!) if their lives depended on it. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but those are the trends I have noticed, anecdotally speaking.
There’s a feminist assumption underlying all the “mentor” talk I hear from women that goes like this: Guys have their Old Boy Network, so we have to come up with these constructs to counteract that. And so they do. And it’s very overt: Will you be my mentor? Yes, I will. Then there are meetings, and lectures, and goals set, etc.
But maybe guys are “mentoring” (another one of those maddening cases of turning a noun into a verb) each other like crazy without even knowing it, or at least without calling it that.
So I thought back, have I ever had a mentor? Not overtly, to the best of my knowledge. I was regularly encouraged by my boss at The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun, right out of college. I can think of two things in particular Reid Ashe said to me. Once he said, “You’re a superstar around here — you know that, don’t you?” Which was kind of a boost. And when I applied to replace John Parish as our state political writer in 1979, and didn’t get it, he created a new position for me (so I wouldn’t quit) in which I worked on special reporting assignments that I pretty much chose myself. Which was cool. The next year, he promoted me to be the editor over all the paper’s news reporters. And one time after that, when I wanted to try some experimental program or other, he told me I didn’t have to ask: “You have the authority to do anything you want to do — as long as you do the right thing.” Some would have found that intimidating, because of the implication that you’d better not foul up (in the sense of being given enough rope to hang yourself), but I was a pretty cocky kid, and I didn’t think anything I wanted to do could possibly be wrong, so I found it empowering. To use another one of those touchy-feely H.R. words.
So there’s no doubt he did a lot go encourage me early in my career. But was that being a mentor — or just having a boss who encouraged me and promoted me (which I don’t think is quite the same thing)? I don’t know. We didn’t call it that. We didn’t have regular meetings. He didn’t give me lectures, or goals. He was more like, “Keep up the good work!” Which I certainly found encouraging. But there was no formal relationship.
Anyway, I just got to wondering: How many of y’all, male and female, have had people you would call “mentors”?