By Allison Matejczyk

Ellevate Network —

“Lack of a formal mentor” is often listed as a reason why women are less successful than men. And while there are many benefits to both having and being a mentor, there are also several factors that need to be considered in order to make this sort of relationship work. During a Jam Session, Michelle Ferguson, SVP of Global Business Services for McGraw Hill Financial and Founder and President of WINS, MHFI’s Women’s Initiative, recently shared her recommendations on what to look for in a potential mentor and how to structure the relationship.

Know Your Role

It’s important to first understand what mentoring is and isn’t. Mentoring is about knowledge sharing, expanding your network and gaining career perspective. It should be development-focused and centered on clearly defined goals. Mentoring is not tied to advancement or a promotion; it is not sponsoring; and a mentor is not your coach or manager. Mentors and mentees need to treat each other like they’re each other’s best client, and confidentiality is absolutely essential.

Commit and Communicate

Time is the first and most important factor of mentoring. Mentors and mentees need to commit to devoting the right amount of time to the relationship in order for it to be successful. Michelle estimates that the beginning of the relationship requires about three hours in the first month and one hour per month thereafter. The second step is for mentees to be self-aware – and even a little selfish. Know your personality and communication style. Ask yourself if the gender of your mentor matters, is a virtual relationship an option, and are you willing to have one outside of your industry? While mentoring can take many forms, the best relationships involve two-way learning and are between individuals who are different from one another.

Define Your Needs and Goals

Women are notorious for not asking for help, but it’s critical for mentees to be very specific about the goals of the relationship. Think about your development needs, such as managing change, strategic thinking or becoming organizational savvy.

A good philosophy to adopt during the partnership is a mentee-led, mentor-guided process, where the mentee takes the lead on setting the meeting and agenda.

Maintain a Lively Relationship

Keeping the relationship dynamic is necessary. Simple strategies Michelle encourages include getting out of the office to meet over breakfast or lunch, going together to an industry conference, reading the same book or even participating in an Ellevate Jam Session together. Willingly evaluate your meeting effectiveness, and give each other constructive and fact-based feedback at the end of each meeting.

In a successful partnership, the mentee gains additional knowledge in areas of leadership, influencing others and resolving conflict. The mentee will also expand her network within and outside of the company, gain an understanding of her mentor’s strengths, and learn from his/her experiences. In addition to making a difference, mentors will learn from their mentees and gain a broader perspective of current work environment challenges. Don’t forget to continue the friendship and meet casually after the close of the formal program.