The Value of Mentors for Women in Business

In a Forbes article titled "Mentoring Matters: How More Women Can Get The Right People In Their Corner," Margie Warrell points out that while more women are graduating college than ever before, the fight for equality in the workplace is far from over. Warrell mentions a "leaky pipeline," a gap between "the number of women starting out on the professional track and how many [are] advancing to senior positions." According to an article in CFO magazine, 51.9% of those with a bachelors and master’s degree in accounting are women, 49.6% of financial managers are women, 59.7% of accountants are women, however, only 13.8% of CFO’s and 4% of CEO’s are women. Warrell suggests that the way to seal up this leaky pipe is through women already in senior positions mentoring those seeking advancement.

At the beginning of this year, Dr. Kristin Ferguson tweeted, "If you're lucky enough to do well, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down." It's then the responsibility of those seeking mentorship to board the elevator. Of course, finding the right mentor isn't as easy as stepping onto an elevator, but the benefits of such a relationship can be worth your time to find and hone such a relationship.  Discovering a mentor at work or while you are in graduate school can lead to gains in both your career and personal advancement.  Whether you're currently in the workforce or a student or graduate from a general business program, finance degree, or Masters in Accounting program, here are some factors to consider as you search for a mentor:

Finding a Mentor

The journey to find your mentor may seem challenging from the start, but the process will help you strengthen relationships you currently have in your network as you also work to expand it. Warrell suggests that you "get clear about what you want in a mentor or sponsor." To do so, it may be helpful for you to spend some time thinking about the type of mentor relationship you are seeking.  Type of mentor relationships can include:

  • Formal – Organized mentor type program often found at your job or through alumni networks, and frequently focused on a specific goal.
  • Coach – Someone, outside of your direct supervisor, that can provide feedback and direction for progressing in your field of work.  Often this type of mentor is someone you can meet with regularly or as needed to help identify skills gaps, provide tools and/or tips to navigate specific situations, and generally will help push you out of your comfort zone.
  • Connector – Individuals that can connect you or introduce you to others.  Can be informal peer to peer or through professional networking organizations.  Connectors are good relationships to develop and can be mutually beneficial.

Once you have established the type of mentor you are seeking, you can begin identifying potential mentors by jotting down the names of individuals you are considering.  In order to come up with your list, think about managers or peers outside of your immediate work group that you respect and feel you could learn from, professionals you may know outside of your current company, in your field or desired field, former professors who are closely tied to the business community, classmates/alumni or any other connections you might have - are all good ways to find mentors.

During your search it can be helpful to practice your “elevator pitch.” This would be a quick presentation about yourself, why you are looking for a mentor, and why you chose your specific field.  For example, if you’re in the field of accounting, you want to have a quick one or two sentences prepared as to what interested you in the field of accounting and what your career aspirations are such as working in an accounting firm, becoming a financial advisor or working within an organization to become CFO. To be a good “mentee” you will also need to demonstrate discipline, dedication, confidence, knowledge, willingness to learn and a passion for the industry. As Dr. Ferguson says in her article for Smart Company: "You are not applying for a job: you are actually looking to make a connection that goes far beyond your career history." Take the time to build a genuine relationship with your mentor to form what can be a positive experience for you both.

Practical Preparation

While the paths to success in general business, finance, or accounting professions are rarely the same, a mentor can prepare you for your future career in a way that is different than classroom preparation.  Often times, mentors have been where you are. They have faced similar barriers and learned how to overcome them. Your mentor can give you hands-on training for how to succeed on a team, get your voice and ideas heard or get connected to your firm of interest. They can teach you how to expand your network and give you realistic insights into how to prepare for your finance or accounting area of interest.

The AICPA recommends that you find a mentor who is a "good quality match" for you and your skills. This doesn't mean that you have the same personalities, ideologies, or interests. As Dr. Ferguson mentions, establishing a valuable relationship with a mentor isn't "as simple as finding someone who is a good match on paper." In fact, working with a mentor with different strengths and weaknesses will help prepare you for situations you may not have been able to conquer if your mentor were the same as you.

Improved Engagement

According to recent studies, a major key to improving employee engagements across the younger generation is through mentoring. The Deloitte Millennial Survey found that millennials planning to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor. Recognizing this trend, 85% of executives have made mentorship a crucial component of their business.

Rather than using traditional training programs, these executives have changed their businesses so that mentors work with new employees. The significance placed on mentorship means that if graduating students can find a mentor who already works at a firm, the student has a much higher chance of getting hired and advancing through the ranks, since the firm is already familiar with the student.

If you want to seal Warrell's "leaky pipeline" and advance to the senior positions you deserve in your career, consider a mentor. To begin building your network and learning necessary skills, learn more about Maryville University's online Master of Science in Accounting degree program.