I’ve never been one to choose a mentor based on gender, not all of them. Mostly, I just go to the person in the chair that I want to sit in and talk to them about what I can do to get there. I have had lots of mentors in my career and there’s usually more than one at a time.
We all need mentors, and we need all kinds of mentors. I don’t go to the same person for advice on every aspect of my career because most people don’t excel on all aspects. I go to whoever excels at what I need advice on. When you’re part of a marginalized group, it’s also good to have at least one mentor in that group too, in my experience. That’s usually the person who helps me navigate the game because they usually have a better handle on the rules that I must play by. There are exceptions, though. I’ve had two great mentors in this area that were men too.
Then there’s the champion. For me, my champion has primarily been whoever my immediate supervisor is. I’ve only been on a few teams where I wasn’t championed by my direct supervisor when it came to evaluations and promotions. I benefited from realizing that person wasn’t going to champion me and finding others during those times who were willing and able to do it. Champions have been just as important as mentors in my career. Mentors guide me and show me what I’m doing wrong and how to better approach a situation, but a champion is the one who fights for me to be the one who gets new opportunities that I may have otherwise been overlooked for. My champions have been split down the binary genders (I’ve never worked for a non-binary or transgender person). I’ve never found the gender of my supervisor to be the leading reason he/she will or won’t champion me, either. We shouldn’t shy away from the idea of crossing gender boundaries when it comes to being someone’s champion, but those of us who are part of a marginalized group should pay attention to others in our group too. We should make sure they aren’t getting left out or overlooked solely because of their status in that group.
I don’t recommend dwelling on our differences, but they are the reasons why I find it important to find mentors in these areas and to make sure we have champions. Talking to someone who has dealt with some of our same specific discriminations, biases and prejudices can go a long way to learning to navigate our workplaces.
We also have to remember to give back every step of the way. Those of us who are comfortable with it and really know the importance of both mentors and champions need to put ourselves out there. That doesn’t always mean becoming the mentor, it also means matching two people who could use each other’s guidance sometimes. It means knowing who to champion. It means being aware that not everyone knows these things and that we should be making sure that those who come after us understand it’s importance so that they can get on track, get in the game, come out and/or do the best work that they can. Reach out, reach up, connect people, be an ally, be a mentor, be a champion. We can’t let people get left behind just because they don’t know the rules they have to play by or don’t have someone who is comfortable championing their abilities because of personal differences.
With so many groups out there, we can cross these divides to mentor and champion people. We must cross them ourselves before we expect for them to be crossed for us, but we also can’t lose sight of those in our groups while we do it.
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