Another Mentor? No Thanks, I’ll Pass

You don’t need another mentor. You need another employer.

Picture this: You’re a successful marketer in a mid-size company, deftly managing a portfolio of brands. You’ve beaten your targets for the past 3 years, and your creative campaigns regularly win awards.

Eager for a new challenge, you meet with your boss about career development.

Presented with a fact-based assessment of your skills and readiness for a new role, he responds with ‘I don’t think you’re ready just yet. Let’s get you a mentor to help you prepare.’

Before you react, think…is a mentor really what you need?

Mentors, Sponsors and Advocates

People can play any of three roles to positively impact your career. Advocates tell other people about your abilities: an advocate tells the VP of Marketing about your great creative campaign.  Mentors help you learn a new skill or overcome a challenge: a mentor might help improve your presentation skills, or help you learn to handle tough questions. Sponsors make the decision to put you in a new role, even if other people think you’re not ready. A sponsor can promote you to be your manager’s peer, even if your manager disagrees.  

Do you really need a mentor?

Mentoring you into a corner

Offering a mentor instead of a promotion makes good employees leave
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Too many women are given mentors, when what they really need is a new employer. I call it being mentored into a corner. Unless there is something specific that you need to work on to be ready for your next role, that mentoring program might just be a way to try to keep you happy in your current job, where you will overperform and give the company more than they pay you for. It’s the ultimate bait and switch.

You need a sponsor, not a mentor. Or you need to leave.

How can you tell if you need a sponsor, not a mentor? Here are a few giveaways:

  • Your boss can’t tell you specifically what you need to improve to qualify for the role you want. Neither can the hiring manager of the new role, or HR
  •  You’ve been mentored before, finished the program successfully (as the company defines it) without any career progress
  • Your company doesn’t have many people of your age/gender/ethnicity/background in the roles you want

All of these are signs that, for one reason or another, you don’t need a mentor. You need a sponsor, or you need to leave.

You can’t ask someone to sponsor you. Sponsors find protégés organically, by hearing about them from advocates or coming across their work. If your work is getting noticed, potential sponsors would come to you, asking for short meetings to learn more about you or your work. When a very senior person takes an interest in your career, you’ll know.

Knowing when it’s time to go

Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay 

Are potential sponsors contacting you? If yes, it might be worth staying for a bit longer, and letting them know that you are looking for a new challenge. If not, you need to leave.

The ugly fact is that, if you stay with the same company, you are less likely to be promoted than your male peers. How much less? According to one report,  47% of men who were with their company for more than 5 years were promoted, while only 39% of similarly loyal women were.

“Taking your seat at the table doesn’t work so well…when no one wants you there.”

Ellen Pao, investor and founder of Project Include

Despite years of evidence that diversity improves decision-making and company performance. Despite the impressive leadership examples of women from Angela Merkel to Kamala Harris. Despite quotas, laws, and shareholder directives, we’re still banging our heads on that glass ceiling.  Over-mentoring is one way to keep us feeling like it could break at any moment…really it will…as soon as you are just a little bit….something.

Take control of your career

Shatter your own ceiling. If your company offers you another mentor without giving you clear and actionable feedback on what you need to improve, stop wasting your time. They’re sending a clear signal: they don’t see you in that dream job. Go somewhere that does.

Marne Platt

Dr. Marne Platt is the President of Fundamental Capabilities and the author of 3 books (so far): Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way; Professional Presence; and PREP For Success. Originally a practicing veterinarian, she built a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. She founded Fundamental Capabilities to ‘pay it forward’ by providing career development workshops and coaching for women. ‘Living Singlish: Your Life, Your Way’ is an ‘older sister in your pocket’ packed full of advice for young women on building their own independent and exciting life. 'Professional Presence' and PREP For Success' help you strengthen your spoken and unspoken communication and leadership presence.