Cisco Canada Blog

How do you find a mentor?

December 9, 2013

It’s a question that we, at Women of Influence, are often asked.  So when we designed the annual ranking of Canada’s most influential women, we knew it wasn’t just to profile great women, it would need to be for a purpose, for the next generation of women leaders.  We knew we had a great partner in Willa Black, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Cisco, when she not only welcomed us into the telepresence rooms of Cisco Canada to help us celebrate in a truly nation-wide setting, when she expressed her commitment to paying it forward and mentoring women with this event, beyond the list and room full of women.  So, here’s what we learned from them, this year. 

I was at an event recently for Young Women of Influence, and was really struck by something that happened.  We had just heard an engaging presentation on personal branding and how to get ahead in business.  The room was packed with acutely ambitious and well-heeled women poised in their career and ready for take-off.  The speaker had just opened up the floor for questions, when a young woman raised her hand and asked the ubiquitous question: “How do you find a mentor?”  I looked around, completely surprised, and thinking to myself, are we still having this conversation?

As the owner of a company dedicated to providing access to female role models, we have this conversation all the time, but so have many others, including mega-watt female role models like Sheryl Sandberg who wrote an entire chapter on the subject.  So, why are we still asking this question?

Just as I’m thinking this through, I heard another woman, this time right behind me, whisper to her friend “oh, that’s a good question!”

I guess that’s my answer!  We’re still talking about this and it’s important.  Maybe we need to get better at answering it.

On November 20th we celebrated the Top 25 Women of Influence, the annual ranking of the most influential women in Canada, so I took the opportunity to ask these women how they found their mentors, and how young women can reach out to them.  Here’s what they said.

The Top 9 ways to find a mentor, from the most influential women in Canada:

1.     Be coachable and be passionate.

–       Claudia Hepburn, Executive Director, The Next 36

2.    Establish trust early on.

–       Kimberley Mason, Regional President, Atlantic Provinces, RBC Royal Bank

3.     Have many mentoring moments during critical periods in your career.

–       Jane Allen, Chief Diversity Officer, Partner, Global Renewable Energy Leader, Deloitte

4.     Surround yourself with good people.   

–       Chris Power, Christine Power, President and CEO, Capital District Health Authority

5.    Make a list of who you want to be when you grow up.  And then find a way to make them part of your life.  Don’t limit yourself to one person.

–       Connie Clerici, President, Closing the Gap, Healthcare

 6.    Pay it forward.  Offer to help junior or senior people to create mentorship moments.  It can only be viewed as a good thing.  The best is to then make them recurring moments to learn and understand the context of the organization and how you could contribute to those issues.

– Gay Mitchell, Deputy Chairman, RBC Wealth Management

 7.    Reach out to people you admire.  Finding a good mentor can be as important to your career as finding a soul mate is to the rest of your life. Don’t sit waiting until a mentor finds you.

–       Wendy Cukier, Vice President Research and Innovation, and Founder & Director, Diversity Institute, Ryerson University

 8.    Be open to serendipity. It was serendipitous that I met my mentor.  I was searching for employment and what came of it was one of the most influential people in my life.

–       Danielle Smith, graduate of The Next 36 and mentee of Claudia Hepburn

9.     Use social media to demonstrate what you’re good at, your interests and strengths.

– Lisa Heidman, Senior Client Partner, The Bedford Consulting Group

On the subject of asking for a mentor itself, I have heard a consistent response from peers and influential women everywhere; they don’t like to be asked.  In fact, the general rule of thumb for finding a mentor seems to be that if you have to ask, it’s probably not right.

Instead, opt for a less direct approach, but no less strategic.  Scouring LinkedIn and keeping up to date with news to find people who inspire you is the first step, and then find ways to get close to them.  What’s always worked well for me is a combination of joining a project, group, club, or team so that you have the opportunity to bond and get to know each other in a comfortable environment.  And then offer to do something for them.  Paying it forward has never let me down as a strategy.

To read in depth and personal profiles of the Top 25 Women of Influence, click here.

 Author: Carolyn Lawrence (@CLLAWRENCE) is the president and CEO of Women of Influence Inc, ( a North American company offering Gender Diversity consulting, Executive Leadership Development, Events and Media; all to shatter the glass ceiling and see women and business succeed together. 

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