This is a guest post by Tracy Lawrence.
When I was in college, I did an internship with LA’s Restaurant Week program. My boss was an incredible role model. She was warm, caring, and tough, and she executed. I got to see all of that in the same person, someone who was like me. That experience encouraged me to not only set more ambitious, meaningful goals in my career, but also to embrace being both tough and warm.
For me, and for most women, having a positive female role model played a big part in recognizing my own style. As a recent study found, 89% of women set more ambitious life goals in the presence of women they admire than when they contemplated their goals alone. When a young woman just starting out in the workforce sees every day that it’s possible for someone like her to thrive in business, she’s likelier to believe in her own possibilities.
Sharing Feminine Strengths and Skills
A female role model literally models for other women the impact feminine energy can bring to business. Feminine energy isn’t about being pretty or soft-spoken: It’s about listening to colleagues and employees, a habit women have proven more inclined to cultivate than men. That’s not to say that men don’t listen or that they can’t bring a feminine energy — they absolutely can and do. But women model it in a unique way.
Women are often more receptive to sensitive feedback from leaders who look like them and live like them. For instance, a female founder I mentored told me about an investor who passed her up, reasoning that it was because he was sexist. But when I dug into the why, it was actually because her vision wasn’t big enough. When I gave her the same feedback that the male investor had, she was willing to listen to me and work to improve because she didn’t suspect ulterior motives at play.
Some of the trickiest professional questions for women are the personal ones: figuring out how their work lives interact with their personal lives. They want to know how to balance love and careers, family time and work time.
Happily, women are uniquely positioned to share details of their “life design,” which is a more holistic way to approach challenges. A female mentor might advise a younger colleague about designing boundary-based work hours, making rules around where in the house to work, selecting a supportive partner, or navigating the intricacies of being a working parent. Though your situation will always be a little different from someone else’s, talking through these issues with another woman will provide a great deal of clarity.
3 Tips for Working With a Female Mentor
If you’re lucky enough to have a female role model who is willing to mentor you, you want to take full advantage of your time together. These tips will help you make the most of the opportunity:
Document Your Challenges
Take notes to share with your mentor. When I continually struggle with an issue, I document key examples of that trend throughout the week, keeping track of the situation and detailing the context, my behaviors, other peoples’ behaviors, what I thought and felt, and the ultimate outcome. This will let your mentor see things more clearly and completely in order to offer you a more informed perspective. Not only that, but it will let you see patterns emerge so that you can continue to grow when you don’t have immediate access to a mentor.
If you trust your mentor, there’s no reason to fake what’s going on for you. Lay all your cards on the table so that she has all the context she needs to understand who you are and what you’re facing. That includes telling her about things that may not show you at your best. You’ll find that sometimes you both learn the most from those times when you’ve messed up.
Set a High Bar
While it’s true that everyone has something to share, that doesn’t mean you should plop yourself down at the feet of any woman you come across in your professional life. Instead, look for someone you can truly look up to. And don’t be afraid to approach women who feel “out of your league.” If the thought of asking her for input is intimidating, it’s a sign of a path worth pursuing. Even if she doesn’t have the time to give to you right now, you won’t regret making the ask.
Whether you’re just beginning your career or a seasoned professional, it’s important to nurture relationships that strengthen women’s positions and clarify their paths to success. When you need advice, don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions of your female mentors. Likewise, when a woman asks you for help, make sure you’ve got her back.
About the Guest Post Author:
Tracy Lawrence is the founder and CEO of Chewse, a service that delivers family-style meals to offices from the best local restaurants. Her vision is to transform transactional drop-off delivery into an inclusive meal experience that also gives back through meal donations. Chewse operates in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Silicon Valley, California; and Austin, Texas. She has raised $30 million for her company and feeds thousands daily. Tracy also mentors female founders in technology, working to fulfill her personal mission of building a more authentically connected world based on vulnerability as a leadership philosophy.