Helping, Guiding, Supporting: Mentoring and Women in Leadership


Having the right mentor has the potential to transform your career. A mentor can help you make tough decisions, analyze situations, provide invaluable advice, and steer you on a journey you may never have thought possible.

This is especially true for women. Many women who enter a profession do not move up to senior leadership positions – a phenomenon known as the leaky pipeline.

Having a mentor or sponsor to provide guidance can encourage career advancement and help organizations retain talent.

Having a mentor enables women to understand how female role models in senior positions can manage their obligations and succeed at work, while also handling personal responsibilities.

Mentorships can help us stay connected. They can also benefit the mentor, giving them the opportunity to gain a new perspective.

While many companies have employee mentoring programs, are they worthwhile, or is it better to develop your own mentoring relationship?

Adele Bekker, head of career services at GIBS, says it’s up to individuals to create mentoring relationships: “You can’t force people — they have to find their own mentors.”

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Informal mentoring is more personal, allows for deep, authentic conversations, and can often be more beneficial than the benefits of formal mentorship programs.

Bekker believes that mentoring should start at the beginning of the career. She advises mentors and mentees to meet monthly and sign a formal nondisclosure agreement.

“It is up to the mentee to set an agenda for the meeting. There has to be commitment and skin involved, or it’s just a coffee conversation. ”

Elise McCabe, a career coach at Career Management Consulting, says that while coaches and mentors are often given to senior leaders, there is a growing awareness that young people also need to be equipped with skills.

Different mentoring processes require different strategies, benchmarks and goals. Informal mentoring has little structure and is based on the relationship of the two partners involved.

Often these develop into a long-lasting friendship, without specific goals or timelines and often only benefit the organization indirectly.

Organizations benefit from formal programs that are structured, based on business objectives and measurable.

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Gender and mentorship – does it really matter?

Is it better to be mentored by an experienced senior executive or someone of the same sex who has faced similar obstacles to you during their career?

It can still be relatively difficult to find a female mentor in a senior leadership role. According to Bloomberg, in April 2021, women held only 29% of board seats in the top 100 publicly traded companies in South Africa.

Identifying a mentor is a very personal choice. There should be a trust factor and you should feel comfortable with their advice.

Networking events are a good place to identify potential mentors

Current and past bosses, former colleagues, and experts in your field can all be potential mentors.

A mentor doesn’t need to be in a leadership position – sometimes someone a few years ahead of you in their career can provide practical and relevant advice.

If you want to pursue a career switch and enter a new field, find someone who has been on a similar journey, McCabe advises.

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An effective mentor is someone you can confide in and have a mutual desire for your personal and professional growth.

become a mentor

Being a mentor is a discipline. Mentors need to realize that the relationship is dynamic and they may be guided by their mentees.

“Identify a niche in which you would like to help and realize that not everyone is equipped to be a mentor,” McCabe advises.

What is the difference?

A mentor will help you navigate your career, identify your strengths and face challenges. They act as your cheerleader and guide, helping you navigate difficult situations.

A sponsor is an influential leader who actively works to promote your work and help you access opportunities and promotions. While mentors tend to coach and advise, sponsors take a more active role.

A coach offers a combination of coaching, mentorship and advice. Where a mentoring relationship offers something to hold on to, coaching helps people to find the answers within themselves by providing direction and providing tools and tips.

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