Shemina Jiwani is the chief operating officer and senior vice-president of strategic initiatives at AscendantFX Capital Inc., a technology-based payment provider.
Until recently, I had never had a formal mentor; not because I didn’t see value in it, but because I didn’t have a lot of female role models around me. Quite frankly, I lacked the guts to ask people I admired and respected, but perhaps didn’t know very well, to go for a coffee or discuss my career.
There is value in having a diverse group of mentors to providing unique and meaningful perspectives, and I feel strongly that young professional women should have at least one female mentor. The trends are promising. A recent LinkedIn Study found that that while only 34 per cent of female baby boomers reported being mentored by a woman, 43 per cent of Gen X and 51 per cent of Gen Y respondents said the same.
Once you have these connections, it’s important to capitalize on them in a meaningful way. Here are the five questions I wish I would have asked my mentors and advisors:
What path do I take to get to the position I want? Plotting the course to the position you want to be in in 5, 10 or even 15 years is extremely important. Figure out where you want to be and ask for your mentor’s advice on what steps to take to get there.
As I was growing in my career, it was easy to accept positions that paid more with a better title. Conversations with a mentor could have helped me realize that a better title and salary in a field I didn’t want to be in didn’t set me up for future success in a role that I would be interested in. I wish someone could have helped me see beyond the company I was working for at the time and market myself for future roles.
What hard and soft skills should I be developing? You should never stop learning if you want to advance in your career. Ask your mentor what industry trends you should be watching, what designations will help you and which associations or networking events you should participate in. My mentors have pushed me to seek relevant speaking opportunities at various conferences, for example, but this has only come recently. I wish I had started this years ago.
What do you wish you had done differently? While it does no good to dwell on regret, you can learn from your mistakes (and your mentor’s). I wish I could have gone back in time and received advice around how to manage maternity leave and my career. Recently, I had a conversation with a mentor who understood the challenges and trade-offs associated with being a working mother, and, in turn, I have had multiple conversations with a newly pregnant mentee about practical suggestions she can implement for her leave.
How can I help you? While mentorships are mainly structured to help the mentee, there are often opportunities to collaborate or help your mentor in a symbiotic way. Don’t shy away from these opportunities – mutually beneficial partnerships make for good business!
I wish I would have started offering to collaborate with people I admired a lot earlier in my career when time juggling family and career wasn’t so limited.
When can we talk again? It’s easy for a short hiatus to become a long one, particularly between two busy and ambitious people.
When I was going through the process of adopting my child from Morocco, I had planned to cancel a conversation with one of my advisors because I didn’t feel like I was in the right mindset to talk about my career growth. As it turns out, the conversation I ended up having convinced me that it was possible to continue working during that six-month-long process, instead of taking a leave of absence as planned. I wish I had had access to these types of conversations when having my first child almost five years ago.
Even though I am now a mentor myself, that doesn’t mean I have stopped seeking out mentors and advisors for myself. The network of advisors that I have cultivated around me have opened my eyes to the uplifting impact of having a team. Knowing what I know now, my biggest regret is how many mentorship opportunities I missed out on as a young woman. If the people I wanted to reach out to were anything like me, they would have relished the chance to advise and influence the next generation of professionals.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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