Advice from Women Entrepreneurs on Finding a Mentor

Last year, Naomi Caietti wrote an article for us  for women working in project management. It was such a success, we’ve asked her to return to the subject, and March being Women’s History Month felt like the right time. We’re thinking of making this an annual round-up. Let us know what you think in the comments.

The economy is rebounding with women entrepreneurs at the forefront as dynamic drivers of global economic growth. According the National Women’s Business Council report:

… findings have shown that women are starting businesses at historic rates (women are launching over 1,200 new businesses per day in the U.S.) And while certain barriers persist, women are successfully launching and scaling their businesses—often doing more with less.

The new economy for women entrepreneurs is bright, yet women still need to find mentors, coaches and even sponsors to propel them to greater success.

Let’s review what is the difference between a mentor, coach or sponsor, learn about some of the latest statistics on women entrepreneurs, and gain insights from four women entrepreneurs on finding a mentor. 

A coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you and a sponsor talks about you.


Mentor, Coach or Sponsor?

Women have many choices when it comes to choosing a mentor, coach or sponsor who will influence and propel their careers; it’s good to understand the differences between the three options.

  1.  Mentor: Someone who has experience in your field and is willing to provide you with access to their knowledge and wisdom, and acts as a soundboard for advice. It’s not a one-way relationship, for as the mentee learns, the mentor grooms a professional who is motivated and loyal.
  2.  Coach: Like a coach in sports, a coach in business is someone who pushes you to achieve, provides support and teaches ways to stay relevant and competitive in a changing work environment. A coach is invested in making you more successful at your chosen profession.
  3.  Sponsor:  This is either an individual or an entity who organizes and is committed to your development as a professional. A sponsor can do anything from raising funds, setting priorities or guidelines, offer general help to get you back on track or resolve conflicts.


Finding a Mentor; Data Tells a Story

What are the challenges and opportunities for women to find a mentor, coach or sponsor? A study called “Women as Mentors; Does She or Doesn’t She,” by reports these key findings regarding women and mentors:

  • 63% have never had a formal mentor
  • 75% reported that the time it takes to mentor most affects their decision to accept mentorships
  • 80% of women are more likely to sponsor each other and to help other women rise to the top.
  • 56% of organizations have a formal program for mentoring.
  • 50% of women have taken advantage of a formal mentoring program that provides an easier way for women to find mentors
  • 75% of women in organizations are requested to be formal mentors in organizations that have formal mentoring programs. 

Clearly, the research by identifies how women can accelerate their personal growth and development and an actionable path forward for women and organizations as follows:

  • Women need to seek out mentors and accept the invitation to mentor others.
  • Organizations need to build formal mentoring into their cultures and encourage women to participate.
  • Shortage of senior women to look to for mentoring; senior women need to make themselves available, women may need to seek women’s networks or create their own group of advisors.

Women Entrepreneurs Share Insights on Mentoring

taralyn-r-frasqueri-molinaTaralyn R. Frasqueri-Molina
Digital Product, Portfolio and Project Manager

It dawns on me that I’ve never had any formal 1:1 business mentoring. I have been a formal business mentor but never a mentee. In the cases where I’ve been a mentor, it’s been quite a positive experience! The goals were usually to “get the mentee a job” and that’s exactly what we did.

My track record is 4 for 4! Despite my never having been formally mentored, I don’t feel like I haven’t received mentoring. I feel like I’ve had a string of amazing mentoring moments over the course of my career. Some of those moments helped me make a career move. Some helped me avoid trouble. Some led me to people I wouldn’t have normally engaged with.

The closest thing to formal mentoring I had was called “Dress for Success”; a program through the Going Places Network Program (GPN). I attended their eight-week program focused on career coaching and networking but was chock full of a very many mentoring moments.

But, while I do think mentoring is worthwhile, what has helped me the most in my career is people advocating for me.  Advocates have been critical in helping land me jobs, side gigs, and projects. Advocates champion my business strategies and ideas in front of influential decision makers. And I  for them in turn.

“I do think there is a place for formal mentoring, but if that doesn’t pan out you’re not at a loss – mentoring moments, finding advocates and being an advocate are brilliant complements for any career strategy.”

connie-plowman-pmpConnie Plowman, PMP
Retired COO, & part-time Faculty
Twitter: • Faculty (PT) Portland Community College

When successful executives are interviewed about “name one key success factor in your career” – the response is generally “I had a mentor.” And I agree. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have several mentors – and to also be a mentor. Both key learning opportunities.  

How do you find a good mentor? Here’s what I did. I made a list of the top-five people in my professional network – business leaders whom I trusted and respected, valued their integrity and admired their professionalism. And I simply asked one of them to be my mentor. Together, we created a “shared expectations” document – one page that we both signed – outlining what we could expect from each other: 

What I could expect from the mentor, and what the mentor could expect from me as the mentee. There were no surprises – and created an amazing working relationship, learning opportunity and knowledge sharing.  Having a mentor – and I had several throughout my career – made a huge difference for me, including being named Chief Operating Officer for the company.  

“The best way a mentor can prepare another leader is to expose him or her to other great people,” according to John C. Maxwell.  I totally agree!”

jenn-reedJenn Reed, Founder and Principal, Cloud611
Twitter • Cloud611 

 Six months ago, I had the pleasure of finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do: run my own cloud technology consulting firm to serve the needs of small businesses. After years of barely getting enough sleep between a full-time job, writing books, online classes, nonprofit work, occasionally squeezing in time to watch my son’s basketball game and other family responsibilities, I traded my corporate job to become a fully-fledged entrepreneur—with even less sleep.

I’m one of those special breeds of people who would give up a steady income and predictable schedule for a work environment where the only predictability you can expect is that each day is going to be a crazy day. As the CEO, COO, CTO, CMO and basically all the Cs you can think of, I’ve had to give up some of the pleasures in life because, you know, I must run a business.

My husband has had to step up to the plate to support my career choice; that’s on top of serving as my trusted advisor, copy editor and ego-balancer. It should come as no surprise then that I should acknowledge my husband’s contribution—no matter how small—to my business, right? It’s safe to say that without him, I could not have achieved launching my startup in a short span of time.

mary-schaeferMary Schaefer, Chief Encouragement Officer
TwitterArtemis Path Inc.

I knew I wanted to go out on my own seven years before I left my corporate job. I felt confined and needed to be my own boss. I coach and train engineers, scientists and tech professionals on soft skills.

Being a solo entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. I’ve found coaches through the years who have helped me in ways big and small. It wasn’t until I reconnected with an old boss after being on my own for 12 years did I feel I had a real mentor.

It’s good that she’s not an entrepreneur. The benefit of her not being an entrepreneur is that she doesn’t have preconceived notions of how things should work. Unfamiliar eyes help me question things I take for granted. I get a fresh perspective. She’s willing to support me at times for training, for instance. She is literally invested in me and believes in me. Priceless.

Tipping Point; A Glass Ceiling Perspective

A few years ago, Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book called Lean In sharing with women her perspective on how to rise and achieve success.   

Today, I believe that in order for women to be successful they need access to more mentors, coaches and sponsors to act as advisors during their career entry/reentry, transition and promotion to C-Suite. 

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, President and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation was interviewed for a Forbes article about her book titled “Forget a Mentor; Find a Sponsor,” and revealed key takeaways from her research:

Research we conducted at the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) shows that sponsors, not mentors, give you real career traction and put you on the path to power and influence by affecting three things: pay raises, high-profile assignments, and promotions.

Could the focus on sponsorship be a tipping point; the career strategy for women in organizations, small business owners and entrepreneurs? 

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