As a longtime female leader at Adobe, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor dozens of women across our organization — women from all departments, divisions, and walks of life.
And while these mentoring experiences were intended to guide others, I ended up learning a lot through the process, particularly about women professionals themselves — what inspires them, challenges them, and makes them tick.
Women have unique circumstances that, in my experience, play a big role in making them successful both at home and in their professional careers. Women’s circumstances also guide what they respond to in being mentored, as well as what inspires them and pushes them further toward success.
I’ve found a few approaches especially effective in tapping into this unique female perspective:
Sharing Real-life Stories
Women want to be mentored by role models — people who represent who and what they want to be. In many cases, they’re especially keen to have another woman as a mentor, especially one in a leadership role that they aspire to.
Their main goal in working with these women mentors? They want to know the mentor’s story — how they manage a successful career, raise children, run a household, and balance it all with seeming ease.
In most cases, mentees are surprised to hear the truth: That it’s not easy. It’s hard. And it takes work every day.
I tell them about my divorce and the struggles I faced as a single mom with a travel-heavy sales job. I share stories of personal hardships I faced during my career and in my family, and I give them the real, nitty-gritty truth about how hard it is to balance work and motherhood in tandem.
But despite the harrowing stories of how my — or any mentor’s — success came to be, mentees don’t find these tales scary; they find them relatable. By telling my story candidly and honestly, I help them understand they’re not alone — that we all have these struggles they’re dealing with and they, too, can overcome challenges and be triumphant.
When I share these personal stories as a mentor, it also validates the uniqueness of their journey. They start to realize that, while they may take a different path to get to the top than the one their mentor or colleagues took, it is possible and it can be done. They just need to strike their own balance and blaze their own path — with their mentor’s help, of course.
Striking a Work-life Balance
The work-life balance is almost always a top-of-mind concern for women professionals, so I don’t shy away from talking about it. I do, however, take a different approach than most.
Instead of encouraging mentees to strike a “balance” between work and life, I guide them toward proper work-life integration strategies — creative solutions that can help them manage their time, stay on top of their calendar, and keep their priorities in check and tended to.
It’s really about empowerment — showing the mentee that they have control over their time and that they can (and should) do anything that life or work throws at them.
Again, sharing real-life stories helps here, providing the mentee with relatable strategies and solutions they can use in their own lives. I also encourage mentees to forget that clear-cut wall that most people think exists between work and personal time. In my own life, I occasionally do personal tasks during work hours, and during personal time, I sometimes do work.
It’s important to look at the two parts of life as integrated — not completely separate entities. By doing this, it affords you more time, more control, and more flexibility to be productive.
This approach also helps mentees lose the guilt they often feel when that traditional work-life “balance” isn’t 100 percent perfect. They’re in control, and they’re the only ones who can put restrictions on their time or how much of it they can devote to each task.
Envisioning their Goals
To achieve our goals, we first have to know what the goals are. Sadly, I find that many women I mentor have never really sat down and thought about their goals and visions — let alone articulated them or written them down.
In our year-long women’s leadership program here at Adobe, we work with participants one-on-one to bring clarity to their visions and goals — not just defining them, but also outlining the actions they can take to make progress and, eventually, meet those goals.
These action plans create a level of accountability, really putting the power in the mentee’s hands and holding them responsible for their own success or failure. After some time, looking back on these goals and the progress these women have made — or failed to make — can be a very inspiring and encouraging thing to see.
To truly be effective, mentoring must go hand in hand with sponsoring — particularly for women. While it’s great to have a female mentor who offers advice and guidance, there needs to be a higher level of opportunity that comes with that.
In addition to the mentor, there should be an influential authority figure who can give weight to the process — someone who can put that upcoming big project or promotion in the realm of possibility for the mentee. Oftentimes, this is the mentee’s direct manager, though it could be someone higher up the food chain.
It’s important to have a conversation with the larger team to ensure sponsorship opportunities are there and available for mentees. These give added value to the mentoring process and provide even more encouragement and inspiration along the way.
When it comes to mentoring women in the workplace, the end goal should always be to instill confidence in the mentee — and these four approaches, as well as simply helping them take action and make progress on their goals, are almost always effective ways to do this. Ultimately, increased confidence helps women be their best, most successful selves — at home, in the office, or wherever life takes them.