Mentoring & Judging

I got started thinking about mentoring during one of the panels at the Ms. JD conference this weekend. I can't help but wonder why I've always seemed to have a hard time finding a mentor and holding onto her. Whenever I've been somebody's mentor it didn't pan out as I'd imagined either. In fact, the most successful mentor/mentee relationships that I've ever had have been with men. However, I recognize that finding a woman mentor is extremely important and that, someday, being a productive mentor to another woman will also crucial. The panelists at the particular session that I am thinking about talked a lot about mentoring and how important it is to find a good mentor. That same panel talked a lot about how women treat other women, how we judge each other, and how we are hard on one another. The panel didn't really go into how to find a good mentor, be a good mentor, or how to overall stop judging each other. I think the two things-- mentoring and judging -- are intertwined. The truth is that women judge one another. We've done it since we were pre-teens and continue to do so into adult life. We all recognize that this is counterproductive yet...the practice continues. If fact, it is encouraged by our appearance-obsessed, self-help, talk-show society. I do it and I am the subject of it. I hate to be judged. See this related post at A mentoring relationship doesn't have any special magic about it that removes the judging. To ask somebody formally to be a mentor or even to just open yourself up with questions and concerns invites judging. To agree to be a mentor also invites judging by the other women. How do you overcome that? Also, where does the burden to initiate and maintain a mentoring relationship rest? On the mentor? On the mentee? My take on it is that women should seek out a mentor for themselves. Yes, experienced and successful women need to make themselves available, but I think the burden of initiation rests on the mentee. However, it is difficult for a less experienced woman to judge how the relationship is being perceived by the mentor. Additionally, the mentee is more vulnerable to things like feeling judged by the other woman. Therefore, I think the burden of maintaining the relationship should rest on the mentor. I don't know the answer to the question about how to remove 'judging' each other from the relationship. That one might be impossible. One last point, it has been my experience that formal mentoring programs where junior women are "assigned" to an experienced woman rarely work. The relationship has to be initiated by the junior woman in order for there to be any chance of real questions getting asked and real advice being sought. What do you think?



New York Lawyer has an article out today related to this topic, Is Mentoring the Cure for Minority Attorney Woes? <i>(registration required).</i> It covers a diversity conference that was recently hosted by Wolf Block, and is worth a read.  This might be my favorite quote: “Other than perfecting skills as a practitioner, the panelists increasingly pointed to the importance of mentors. “You don’t make it in a large law firm without a fairy godmother or a fairy godfather,” Dandridge said. “Period.”“ So it’s clear that mentoring is very important, particularly if you’re someone—a woman, a person of color, or a woman of color—who might not fall as naturally into certain kinds of relationships with the higher ups.


I agree about the formal mentorship programs.  In my experience, formal mentors (matched through a program) have been much less influential than the female mentors I have sought out myself.  I feel that in formal mentoring programs, a mentee may seem like more of an obligation and less of a person that the mentor enjoys furnishing with advice and assistance.  At the other end, I have developed more than one informal mentor/mentee relationship since beginning my law school career, and they have proved invaluable in my decision-making process and involvement in both my schoolwork and extra-curriculars.  I think as a younger woman looking to those above to lend a hand and some insight, it is important to show a more senior woman that the reason you are going to her is not to be a nuisance, and not to try to find an easy way to the top, but because you respect and admire her, and because you’d like to learn about her experiences and see how those might assist you on your own path.  It is, of course, understandable that some women are so busy and involved in their own careers and lives, that they may not have time to invest in a mentor/mentee relationship, and so a perk of a formal program is that seemingly, the participants will have volunteered their services.  But, in the end, as a relationship based on give-and-take, it will not be beneficial for either the mentor or the mentee if that relationship becomes burdensome.  However, my experiences are limited to law school and pre-law school life, where I have not served as a threat, or been in competition with the women I have sought out as mentors, so perhaps I will face more challenges once I actually enter the legal profession.

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