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How women are making the most of mentoring in Jacksonville

Originally posted: Jacksonville Business Jounrnal March 27, 2015

Two years ago, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” hit the shelves, changing the way some women saw opportunities in the work world. Some workplaces are starting to adopt the practices Sandberg recommends, including mentoring: Throughout Jacksonville, offices are establishing formal and informal mentorships to set young women and men up for success in their careers.

The post-Lean In revolution has clearly established that having a strong, trustworthy, caring mentor can help make a young professional’s career. But what does it actually take for that mentor to be considered talented in guiding someone on a path to success?

The Business Journal spoke with four mentors and two mentees— all from different industries, backgrounds, coaching styles and career histories. Here’s what they had to say about taking mentorship one step further, and actually using it to spark the next great career.

How did you get involved in mentoring? A true passion and concern of mine is the well-being of young attorneys, especially female. I feel compelled to do whatever I can to help them succeed. I had the benefit of a mentor, and she showed me the way…. I started at the firm in 2004 and I’m on the recruiting committee. Early on, I saw it was difficult when a person didn’t know the ins and outs of an organization to put their best foot forward. I wanted to help and guide them.

Describe how mentoring works in your office. My firm is big on mentoring. Everyone gets one. I have some formal and several informal mentors and mentees. I’ve been mentored by people above me and by people below me. You do what you can in the organization to benefit those coming after you, to create retention of younger attorneys. You implement changes that will benefit them, because things can always be done better.

What do you think is in the personality of a great mentor? A mentor is confident and comfortable with who they are. The relationship fails when the mentor fears competition from their mentee.

What is one of the major problems in your industry that can be aided through mentoring? In law, we have a retention problem. Fifty percent of law school graduates are women, but only 17 percent of partners are women. They take non-lawyer jobs or stay home to care for their family. It’s not that they’re not leaning in because they don’t want to be a lawyer, but because the traditional law office structure isn’t always helpful. The field is still dominated by men, most mentor-mentee relationships are male to female. There are some questions that are uncomfortable to ask a man, and it’s helpful to speak to someone who has been in that position.

What is one of the most important aspects of a good mentor? To be very candid and have an open-door policy. One of the biggest pitfalls a mentor can make is breaching confidentiality: They think they’re doing something to help their mentee but they’re not. And one of the biggest pitfalls a mentee can make is not being fully candid with their mentor. Staying candid is so important because otherwise the advice is useless.

 

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