At work, I help to run a mentoring program for our women attorneys. We’ve worked hard to design a program that sets our women up for success and helps them to sustain their ambition. Recently, I was talking to a friend about our program when she asked me if we had enough women partners to mentor all of these women associates. It wasn’t the first – or the last – time I was asked this question. It became clear to me that people are quick to assume that mentor/mentee relationships are built on similarities and shared experiences. In some cases, this is true and works quite well. But, I think it’s worth remembering that a mentor doesn’t have to look like you. And in some cases, you might even be better off because of it.
Having a mentor with a different background from yours is beneficial for a number of reasons. It will help you to grow in important ways, both personally and professionally. Someone who is different from you can offer you a fresh perspective and help you to identify blind spots and biases you might not be aware of. It can encourage you to be more innovative and creating in your thinking.
If you’re a minority or a woman, you might gravitate toward other successful minorities or women to mentor you. But, at least for now, it’s the white men who hold the highest number of powerful and influential positions in most companies and industries. These are precisely the people you want in your corner. Not to mention, if women and minorities were the only ones responsible for mentoring every minority and woman below them, they wouldn’t have much time left to do their day jobs. The more we can interact and form genuine bonds and relationships with people who are different from us, the more likely we are to create a culture of shared understanding and mutual respect.
So, this is your reminder to broaden your thinking around what it means to have or be a mentor. Expand your pool of go-to people, and remember that it’s perfectly OK to have more than one mentor along the way. In fact, make it a point to develop your personal board of advisers, all of whom are different from one another and can offer their own unique value and insight. Doing so will make you more effective, thoughtful, and ready to advance to the next level.