The Importance of Mentoring

—Margaret M. Chin

In my book Stuck: Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder, the majority of the 103 people that I interviewed mentioned the importance of mentoring. Although most did not have regular mentors for the majority for their careers, for reasons I’ll explain later, they nevertheless encouraged everyone to get mentoring. The mentor-mentee relationship that they did develop were often key in their careers.

Mentoring is by definition having a more experienced individual helping and giving advice to a more junior co-worker. Usually, mentees see that relationship beneficial for themselves, but more and more mentors also see benefits from their relationship.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship between a more senior and a junior professional. Usually, it’s a mutual relationship where the more senior person extrapolates from their career experiences and shares helpful information, support, constructive feedback to the junior person. At the same time, the mentor often learns leadership skills – such as listening, empathy, and giving feedback to a junior colleague. Even more important, as a few of the respondents mentioned is that mentoring or getting mentors is another way to develop a network of mentors. For them, it was more effective to have many mentors rather than just one.

Why is it important

The junior colleague gets a connection to an important person and gets to expand his or her professional network. This mentor can actively advise and also act as a sounding board to the junior person. The mentor can share how organizations work, how people move up, what points to make on presentations and even share information and connections to others in the industry. The connection is just as important as the information that can be obtained.

While everyone recognizes the importance of the mentor/mentee relationship, the most difficult part is to get a network of mentors.

How to get a mentor

As young people in high school and college, my Asian American respondents had a difficult time gaining access to networks that included adult mentors in non-STEM fields such as media communications, banking and lawyering. Their parents were often engineers and other science professionals. So, their parents couldn’t introduce mentors to their children.

One way that some of them got mentors was through programs such as SEO, POSSE and other Affirmative Action programs. Frequently as high school and college students, these programs assigned them formal mentors. And as they moved into the workforce, sometimes formal programs again linked them to mentors. Secondly, one of my respondents, Nicole mention that one had to cultivate mentors or find members of their network to be in their circles of mentors. If there were no formal programs – my respondents searched and grew their own spheres or teams of mentors. Some had a difficult time doing this on their own, but others easily grew a group of supportive “rabbis”.

Mentors and the pandemic

Whether you have a group of mentors or not, I would suggest you firm up the relationships with your mentor during this pandemic. Since we rarely get to see our mentors or even co-workers face to face, it’s probably a good idea to contact your mentor. Moreover, it’s probably a good idea to formalize some tasks during this time. They should ask you want you want, and you should also ask in return. Thus, you can fortify a mutual relationship that is beneficial for the both of you.

Margaret M. Chin is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Sewing Women: Immigrants and the NYC Garment Industry. Her latest book, Stuck:Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder, is now available from NYU Press.

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels