How modern mentorship “should” create equity & self-efficacy

Alison Gretz Avatar

Mentorship is an important part of many journeys in personal and professional development. Having a mentor can make the difference of getting a foot in the door, guidance while making complex decisions, or help negotiating job offers and opportunities.

This week, I had the honor of leading a conversation for the mentors in this year’s Wintry Mix Mentorship program. With almost 60 mentors building new relationships with 60 paired mentees, we discussed the importance of leveraging Mentorship to create equity in the marketing and advertising community, which is really powerful.

I shared several key mindsets for effective Mentoring, that I’ve tried to summarize here inclusive of the community dialog.

Begin with Intention, Radical Inclusion and Human-to-human foundations

There is an inherent power dynamic between a Mentor and Mentee – the Mentor is likely more experience (except in reverse-mentoring relationships). Therefore, to center the relationship in equity there is a needed foundation. To start, take the lead in setting up the first meeting. This has traditionally fallen on the Mentee to “take the lead” in the organization of the relationship, which begins the relationship with a power-dynamic and works against centering equity. Therefore, from myself and raised in the discussion, here’s how I would start out as a Mentor:

Reach out, and find a time/place to meet that works for the Mentee. By start off with a comfortable, and accessible way of beginning for the Mentee you allow them to choose a place they feel comfortable, tackle any complexities in schedule commitments, and also accomodate any accessibility concerns without them having to advocate for themselves or disclose vulnerabilities.

acknowledge racial in-equity when appropriate

When contextually relevant, or brought up by the mentee, we discussed how to address an additional dynamic – there are many more up-and-coming Mentees who are women of color, and the Mentor pool is largely white women. This is an unfortunately changing fact in our broader society as it stands – see the recent McKinsey and LeanIn report on Women in the Workplace where only 1 in 16 c-suite, SVP, VP and Director positions are held by women of color). So as a white woman, what I can do is listen, believe and support my Mentee in all differences and walk in knowing that their experience will be different from mine and center on their journey, not my experiences as a white-woman.

The important thing to consider – who will it help if I bring up race, or any dimension of visible difference? Is it for my own comfort as a white person? My own ego? To give myself credit for being an ally? If so, why am I talking when I am here to be of service to the Mentee.

center on the mentees goals

As the Mentor, you have the ability to use your experience to hold the space for a goal of the Mentee. You can then consider how you will facilitate their exploration and pursuit of that goal. This also allows you to choose how you show up for them, consider what connections you have that will assist, and what doors you can open. You can help them think through setting their goal effectively (you likely have done this more!) and considering their plan to achieve it. Try not to influence their goal, simply facilitate their articulation of a clear goal for their time with you.

Additionally, setting clear expectations upfront about communication, meetings times, what you can provide as a Mentor, and having a dialog about what you each expect of each other sets the relationship up for success.

don’t “should” your Mentee

Mentorship is typically seen as an advice-giving role. I challenge us to expand our thinking here. It can be an advice-giving role when advice is truly sought. However, none of us like to be told what we should do, or how we should approach our problems (Read more on “Should-ing” here). A much more effective route, is putting on a coaching hat and considering how you can probe with powerful questions to encourage strategic thinking, facilitate their own problem solving, and check that they want advice before you share your experience or perspective. What worked for you, likely won’t work for them. Nothing is cookie-cutter and work-life has changed at a rapid pace.

By continuing to center on the Mentee’s goals, you’ll build up their self-efficacy and confidence throughout your time together. They will amaze you with how they solve their own problems, and you’ll also reap the satisfaction of seeing their progress. You can also consider towards the end of each session asking: “What support, if any, will you need from others including myself?” to hear their ideas on ways you can proactively be an ally in their journey.

lead through challenges in the relationship

Another gift you can give through demonstration is that of addressing challenges in the relationship as they arise. Some of the common problems we discussed as a group included one of the parties “ghosting” the other, a shift in goals that made the match less effective, or not finding a “Click” in the relationship. In “ghosting” (the horrible part of online dating where someone just vanishes and stops responding), a Mentee (or Mentor) may become unresponsive. One of our community suggests continuing to follow up, and offer a “way back” even if something like this has occurred. Reminder, the Mentor has the power position here, so it can be difficult to say “whoops, I vanished and I’d like to re-engage” even when there was a reason. When goals shift, and perhaps Mentorship is no longer sought – that’s ok! You can then demonstrate how to pivot and end a relationship with professionalism. It’s also absolutely fine to not have a picture-perfect, we are now besties and life-long friends Mentorship relationship!! Even if you don’t “click” together, you can still have a respectful, mutually rewarding experience together.


I left the group with these key considerations on being a stellar Mentor:
– Hold the container for Mentee growth, center on their journey
– Transition from advice-giving to wearing a coaching hat
– Identify and center on the Mentee’s goals in a mentorship relationship, and facilitate their exploration and progress
– Expect bumps, be consistently supportive and available

Bonus for my fellow white women:
Be mindful of not centering on our experiences, which may not be accurate or helpful for non-white people now. If you follow the TLDR above, you’re on the right track.

And yes, in some ways I have “shoulded” you through this entire article. Or given you advice. Argh!


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