3 Thought-Provoking Questions To Ask Your Female Mentor In 2017

Published by Antonia Mochan on January 4th, 2017

3 Thought-Provoking Questions To Ask Your Female Mentor In 2017

Christine Carter, Under 30

"There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other."

-Madeleine Albright, former (and first female) United States Secretary of State

Five years ago, 52% of female respondents in a LinkedIn survey said they never had a mentor because they hadn’t encountered someone appropriate. Yet in that same survey, more than half of the millennial women noted they were being or had been mentored by women. To be fair, mentorship engagement wasn’t ingrained in previous generations as much as it was for professional millennial women. The latter fully understands the importance of having (and being) a mentor at some point in their career, and does not want to go to that special place in hell.

For millennial women a female mentor can provide guidance on many situations based on their experience within the work environment. They understand "how things really get done" within the company and can jumpstart networking relationships. Mentors also serve as an informational resource on policies and procedures, reduce confusion and uncertainty related to the company culture, make invaluable introductions and respect confidentiality, building lasting rapport. For the female mentor, simply by engaging in a professional mentorship these women can experience career advancement and compensation growth. According to a Catalyst report, mentors received $25,075 in additional compensation between 2008 and 2010, most likely due to increased visibility from developing talent which led to greater reward and recognition for the extra effort.

Though female leaders are scarce at many organizations, there are industries in which a higher proportion of female leaders exist, such as the apparel, retail and personal care industries. Women within these industries are serving as powerful mentors, recognizing successful protégés lead to profitable companies. The dynamic amongst professional women (treating one another as competition) is also declining, as companies increase opportunities for female advancement, since they bring different skill sets than their male counterparts and increase an organization’s skill diversity. And while having a male mentor has its advantages, the best mentor instinctively understands their protégé.

To be clear: millennial women will receive sound direction when asking ANY mentor- male or female- common questions ("Is this where you thought you would end up? What do you consider your biggest weakness?"), but what about the professional millennial mother whose needs differ from the needs of the average millennial employee? These women require an appropriate mentor who can not only provide sound direction regarding their professional career, but also can contribute a parental (and more specifically, female parental) perspective.

A mentor who understands the challenges associated with balancing the responsibilities of a burgeoning professional and family woman is invaluable, and finding the female mentor who is an experienced business leader by day and mother by night isn’t impossible. Case in point: baby boomer women are working longer, and the majority of baby boomer women born in 1950 gave birth to their first child before they turned 25. Considering 34% of American workers are millennials (and roughly one in five mothers is a millennial), these working millennial mothers should turn to previous generations for solid advice. These women are untapped resources; asking them uncommon questions could encourage millennial mothers to remain with a company, apply for a challenging role or even financially invest in the organization.

Understandably, most professionals prefer not forego crossing professional boundaries into personal territories with their managers or business leaders. Yet millennials thrive in real and honest interactions, so why shouldn’t mothers from this cohort feel comfortable deepening their relationship with female superiors via thought-provoking questions? Yes these women can address not only gender related challenges but also parenting challenges, which allows moms to focus on job-specific issues and adding value to the organization- not their personal lives- and maximizes company productivity.

Here are a few recommended thought-provoking questions for a female mentor who is also a mother:

How did you balance being a mother and professional? What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?

Why ask about this? Navigating a career and a family is challenging. According to Pew Research Center, millennial women are much more likely than men to experience family-related career interruptions, and motherhood specifically interrupt career paths. Older women from previous generations already experienced these interruptions. Among those women who reduced their work hours in order to care for a child, 35% say this hurt their career overall (compare this to 17% of men who reduced their work hours). Similarly, about one-third of women (32%) who took a significant amount of time off from work for family-related reasons say doing this hurt their career, compared with 18% of men.

What was our organizational culture like 10 years ago for women and working mothers? Do you feel the company makes annual efforts towards improving the culture for this cohort?

Why ask about this? For the past 36 years women have accounted for nearly half of the U.S. labor force, and 15% of women work in managerial and administrative occupations, up eight percentage points from 1980. Don’t reference a time period before the 21st century. These two questions aren’t about if women work at the company, they’re about if women feel a sense of inclusion at the company. In 2000 companies started executing drastic organizational changes in the interest of women and working mothers, such as technological improvements and the option to telecommute. Many organizational cultures with flexible work-life integration and gravitate towards companies committed to corporate social responsibility. If their company made slow progress (or no progress), hearing this from the lens of a female mentor pressure tests a millennial mom’s commitment to their organization.

What event motivated you to become a mentor? Do you foresee transitioning from a mentor to a sponsor at some point in your career?

Why ask about this? Sixty-five percent of women who have been mentored will become mentors themselves but just nine percent of women offer sponsorship to protégés. According to the Forbes leadership Forum, mentors and sponsors serve different purposes but have a similar desire: support their protégé in achieving their goals. A mentor provides guidance and advice, though not necessarily an advocate. A sponsor is an advocate, someone within the organization who accentuates the strengths of their protégé to leadership and other executives, thus providing the protégé with opportunities to spearhead high-profile projects.

For women the transition from mentor to sponsor isn’t easy. Not all mentors can be sponsors; the latter requires either tenure or clout and the ability to identify extraordinary talent within the organization. For a professional millennial woman and mother, the answer to this question should indicate at what point in their career they should feel comfortable giving guidance and feedback to others. It should also indicate when they should feel confident in their role and can effortlessly communicate the strategy of the company. If a female mentor can’t communicate how best to adhere to the corporate strategy or their own professional goals, or isn’t driven and committed to becoming a sponsor, they may not be an ideal mentor for a millennial mom.

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