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Mentor Journal 3: Beginner’s Mud

Our 2017 Mentoring Program wraps up this August! Thanks to everyone – mentors and mentees – who contributed their time and insights. We’re excited to share our some of our successes and lessons learned!

 

Beginner’s Mud

My Mentoring Team met up on a sunny Sunday in July to discuss our progress and questions going forward. This was our second in-person meeting (the first one being in February) – and we had a Skype meeting in between. We had a lot to discuss and celebrate – it has certainly been a busy last few months for everyone!

I came into the Mentoring Program with an unclear sense of where my career was going. Even though I had friends and family sharing advice, and formal evaluation at work, I was missing the resources to fine-tune my direction and reach the next level. At our final meeting, our mentor described what we were experiencing as making it through the “beginner’s mud”. Those graduating from college may have a strong sense of confidence, accomplishment, and identity. When we enter the workforce, we need to re-orient to new environments and routines. Being in a new schedules and adapting to organizational politics may affect of our energy and identity. Throughout this process, we may lose our way: feel unsure what direction to go in, where to put our energy, and how to communicate effectively. We may get stuck in reactionary mode and unable to see the bigger picture.

It takes plenty of work to get out of the “beginner’s mud”. Throughout the six month program, I would often write to my mentor via e-mail with questions I had and frame the challenges I was running into. I kept track of how I felt: What types of experiences made me feel empowered, which types made me feel unsure of myself? Identifying those feelings and responding with actionable steps was key. Having an experienced professional — who was, in fact not in my same professional field — to help troubleshoot and clarify my thinking along the way, was a tremendous resource. I believe we as “beginners” (or not) truly need this kind of feedback in order to become polished and confident professionals.

 

Examine Your Writing

Our mentor mentioned that simply the way one presents issues and describe the context, can reveal how confident you are and how much direction you have. It is great to write out your goals and questions throughout the mentorship process, so you can track your growth: skills and mindset. Saving six months worth of communications can tell a great story!

Can your mentor, or anyone else, understand what you need help on, based on your writing? If you feel too overwhelmed to begin anything, can you write out everything you’re worried about?

My mentor and I looked at my first and final questions side by side, and the difference was clear. My first set of questions were vague and tentative, revealing how lost I was. The second set were very focused and full of context for where I am now and where I’m headed.

 

Success Stories

We were excited to hear back from our other mentees about how they are doing. Here are some things our mentees achieved in the past six months:

I went to a very good event offered by one of our group member’s employer

Landed new position – dream job!

I met some great women professionals and formed new friendships.

Knowing what I don’t want, and surviving in a toxic environment while realizing it isn’t about me. It motivated me to think about my career and what my goals are and to take action. I revert back to my comfort zone often and realized it’s finally time to take action and get out!

I personally felt like it was a great feedback I got from the mentor that I was able to apply it for my future position.

I affirmed myself more and gained more confidence.

Take the courage to actually seek help. though I am not very good at seeking help from others.

Understanding personality types and career choices

We discussed a lot of Meyers Briggs. I loved learning about how I can better communicate with folks with different personality styles.

Discussing managing people

Stuck with a very difficult situation to get to the next stage.

 

Replacing Yourself

We’re encoded to think that irreplaceable means that ‘I can do something that no one else can do’. But in fact, the most irreplaceable people are the ones that empower others to do something they couldn’t do before.

Developer Tea, episode “Developer Career Roadmap: Step 9 Replace Yourself

This quote jumped out to me as just the other day I attended a webinar where the speaker asked the attendees to “write out the skills/qualities that make you irreplaceable”. It is often easy to default to our competitive nature, i.e. how much value we as individuals have compared to others. I love the way the quote above flips this idea, the shift of perspective is so supportive. Knowing everything and being able to do everything is not necessarily something we should endlessly strive for (what a relief!).

How can we continue supporting each other in our day to day careers? As our program concludes, we on the Women Accelerators team challenge you to take this idea into your career, whether you consider yourself a mentor or not.

Our next Mentoring Program will start in early 2018. Please check our website in late 2017 if you’re interested in participating.

 

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Mentor Journal Entry 2: Mentorship Strategies

We are now halfway into our Mentoring Program! Between February and April, groups met for the first time. Many groups are now meeting virtually on Skype for their second and third meetings in late spring/early summer.

Soon after our first check-in with mentee participants, one of our mentors asked if there could be a check-in for them, as well. This made us realize that, while our mentors have more professional experience than their mentees, they could also use frameworks to support their efforts for our Mentoring Program.

What are some ways to ensure mentorship is successful? Are there activities mentor teams can work on together?

 

Regular communication is key!

We suggest groups connect every month. While the first meeting was in person, we encourage groups to meet via Skype to give more options for scheduling. Over the course of six months, it is possible mentees have graduated or moved for new jobs.

Even if all group members are in the same location, keeping consistent meetings throughout a six month period can be a challenge. The most important thing is to stay in touch. Some groups may use platforms like Google Hangouts or Slack, while others may prefer group e-mail. If mentors are willing, offer for mentees to reach out to you personally for one-on-one advice.

We suggest mentors lead with check-in questions via e-mail, such as

  • What are points/issues you’d like to discuss?
  • Any news/changes that have happened since we last talked?

These are helpful to send in advance of a meeting so that there is an agenda to talk about or in place of a meeting.

At the start of the program, mentors received PDFs with each mentee’s goals. Halfway through the program is a good checkpoint. What are a particular mentee’s roadblocks, if any, to reaching those goals? Some mentees may have achieved something they weren’t expecting.

 

Beyond checking in, what are some things groups can discuss?

Here are some words from our mentors, regarding activities/discussion starting points that help spark discussion:

To engage all in a meaningful way is important – so I usually start with something like: what is the best experience and/or worst experience you had in the past week. Is there something lodged in your head you keep on thinking about…Whatever discussion this sparks, leads directly to mentoring moments….and naturally develops a very engaged further discussion. I invite other mentees to ponder, suggest, or compare their own experience among themselves before I come in to “mentor”. Oftentimes, by offering hints, leading questions targeting specific issues etc….the mentees actually come up with various good solutions themselves. Those are the best/most valuable learning/mentoring moments.

We attended a women’s salary negotiation workshop together. Doing a group event/speaker/training was nice.

It is important to acknowledge life demands within the context of the goals they have set for themselves to get from this mentoring program. More than anything, those demands put stress on goal achievement. Helping them adjust the pressure they put on themselves to achieve “now” is helpful.

The Women Accelerators volunteer team put together the following additional list of activities:

  • Role playing scenarios in the workplace/laboratory/etc.
  • Resume and cover letter writing/editing session
  • Practicing salary negotiation
  • Practicing a job interview

 

Our mentees are growing to become our next leaders

As groups progress through the program, mentees are gaining experience which may help them be future mentors, or simply support their fellow mentees. We hope that our program will keep the cycle of support going. A couple mentors mentioned the following, regarding mentee contributions:

One of my mentees has stepped up to do more of the organizing. I think an articulation of these responsibilities, who holds them, and how they may rotate among the mentees would be helpful at the outset.

My approach is ‘peer’ mentor b/c most are not just out of school/post-doc

Mentors might also reflect on their own journeys to generate additional discussion points or storytelling opportunities for their group. Some guiding questions:

  • What was a time you learned a lot because it didn’t go smoothly?
  • Who was your best mentor and what did you learn from him/her?
  • What skills do you think are critical as a woman leader?
  • What was your proudest moment?

We hope this list of tips, discussion points, and activities will be useful to our groups, and wish everyone the best for the next weeks of the program! Later in the summer, we’ll share some final thoughts and concluding lessons on our 2017 program.

We are so grateful for the mentors who have volunteered their time this year!

 

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Mentor Journal Entry 1: What is Mentorship?

Welcome to the Women Accelerators Mentor Journal!

We are one month into our Mentorship Program and many great discussions have begun. As I go through my work week, I’ve been re-reading a note I took at our first mentor meeting:

If coworkers are unresponsive, follow up. Ask for a meeting. Use phrases and words like “constructive feedback”, “smoothness” and “efficiency”.

I’ve put this idea into action a few times since I first met with my mentor in February. Advice like this — delivered via one-to-one relationships — is so crucial and nurturing in our competitive workplace. In this and three following blog posts (May, July, and September), we will be recording and sharing more great tips like this from mentors and their mentees.

A little background on our program: Our 2017 Mentorship Program session consists of 9 mentors and 37 mentees. Meetings are in a group session (in person or remote), with 3-6 mentees and one mentor. This is the fourth year of the program, with the largest attendance.  In January, 45 women signed up for our mentor “speed networking”, where they had the chance to meet our mentors for five minute discussions. Matches were made the following week, based on their interests and personal preferences from our surveys and groups met for the first time in February and March.

To find out what our mentees and mentors are learning, and help in areas where teams are stuck, we are communicating with them more often than we have in the past. The result, we hope, will be a rich online discussion to help our participants and beyond!

All mentees are first time mentees with Women Accelerators. Some of our mentors are also new to mentoring. Given this fact, we thought it would be helpful to define the mentor-mentee relationship. One of our mentees asked: Is there any structure in being mentor / mentee?

We are encouraging all groups to meet at least once a month, to build their relationships and discussions. Some may be going through career transitions — finishing a degree program, finding a new job, etc. — so six months is a great arc throughout which transformations can be seen.

At the start of the program, we asked participants to state their goals and interests. This helped us identify the best matches for their mentor groups. Some of our mentees discussed their goals with their teams at their first meeting. Those initial goals are great to revisit monthly, or however often it seems appropriate.

Our hope is that mentorship can fill the gaps where support is missing in the workplace. There are a wide range of areas where mentors can help!

  • Navigating a workplace conflict/politics
  • Issues specific to women, which may be uncomfortable to ask about. For example, how can women get recognized for their strengths when they are less likely to speak up?
  • Providing personal stories about how they overcame challenges
  • Giving advice about how to buy a suit
  • Learning how to feel more confident
  • Escaping a toxic work environment

 

Mentees should attend meetings prepared with a few questions or scenarios to share. For example:

  • How can you communicate with someone who constantly changes their mind?
  • Why did I feel more confident in college, compared to in the workforce?
  • What is the best way to ask for a raise?

 

Being as specific as possible is helpful. It’s likely that others may have similar questions or experiences — when the mentor answers, others are encouraged to take notes and add on their thoughts.

Each group dynamic is bound to be different, and everyone has something to gain from their mentor and fellow mentees. Here are some great things our mentees are learning already:

The personal stories from the mentor but also the other mentees were very inspiring!

 

It might not seem super useful, but just knowing that others are feeling similar to me is very helpful to me. I have a lot of friends who seem to know exactly what they want out of their careers, but I’ve always been interested in so many things. It’s nice to know that others feel the same struggle sometimes!

 

Ways to tackle language challenges, personal stories about changing state of mind and shifts in careers

 

Network is important, try to get more interviews for practises

 

Confidence is the key to everything. Changing our mindset about time, money, presentation… can change how we are perceived.

 

It was great to hear from not just my mentor but also mentees as suggestions that can improve at workplace.

 

I really appreciated meeting other women who are in varying states of professional transition, like myself. We all have a lot of wisdom to share, which is very valuable.

 

Stayed tuned for our second entry of Mentor Journal! Next time, we’ll turn the focus back on our mentors. What are some ways to ensure mentorship is successful? Are there activities mentor teams can work on together?

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Bonus Skills: A Conversation between Volunteers Leah and Kate

Written by Leah Brunetto

Have you ever picked up any skills without planning?

It can be hard to feel productive after you’ve been working on the same tasks for a while. Sometimes, we can be hard on ourselves for not moving ahead quickly enough, and of course, work can get tedious. Gaining a new perspective on ourselves can give us some more steam for our journey — today, we’d like to take a step back and tell you about some bonus skills we picked up along the way, and how they’ve transformed and connected us.

Working on a website at a nonprofit, I’ve been working on content updates and offering releases with marketing staff for three years. I knew nothing about marketing or content management systems when starting my job. At first, I was just to go-to person for technical purposes, but later I’ve taken on more of a role in other ways, such as communicating with internal clients, recording schedules, and becoming an expert on existing content and in house assets. I learned that I really liked all this, and it was something I was good at.

This experience gave me more confidence and inspired me to look for opportunities to write and help with communications outside my organization. I happened to be at a Women Accelerators event this spring, and there was an announcement that they were looking for contributors to their blog, to write about women’s career building topics. This really caught my attention, because I had been reading and listening to a lot of media about self-empowerment, and the idea of creating my own resources to help others got me really excited.

After getting involved as a volunteer, it wasn’t too long before I met fellow volunteer Kate, an account manager for a software company who also writes for the Women Accelerators website. Kate is very passionate about writing, and has so much hard-earned wisdom about work, so I was eager to hear more about her journey. We met up on a sunny afternoon in Kendall Square to talk about some skills that she gained on the job, and how they’ve unexpectedly shaped the career she has today:

LB: So, I’m very curious — when we first met over e-mail you mentioned you had a story about your unexpected growth in your role. What changed?

KH: It all started with my client meetings. Our company’s product is the same all the time, but the people you work with will all have different needs. As an account manager, I’m the go to person. If the client is having a problem, they call and mention things like “It would be great if your product could do this…” When clients come to you and say “I really wanna be able to do A, B, C, and D…” sometimes you think, “Well, our software does Z.” And when you’re in charge of the product, you can’t just change everything on a whim. You have to think: “Are there creative ways you can implement this without disrupting the way the product works? “

First, I’d just bring all my notes back and say “here are the problems” and my boss would come up with something. After doing this for a few months, out of the blue, my boss asked “What do you think?”

One time, he was traveling and couldn’t meet with me for over three days. I ended up thinking about a project the whole time and just made a decision. He told me that was I right. At this point, I knew more about the project than him! It was terrifying but exciting to realize, “I’m the only person who can do this!”

LB: That is amazing! But I could see that even being a little scary. When we start out, we’re used to looking to other people for all the answers.

KH: Yeah, that’s absolutely what’s happened for me! My boss hasn’t worked with as many biologists yet, and hasn’t done this complex of a data management setup yet. Whenever anything like this comes up, it goes to me.

LB: So you’ve become a specialist?

KH: Yes I suppose so!

LB: It’s so amazing to hear that after a short period of time, you made this great transformation, and it wasn’t something you could have really predicted. I know you started out studying chemistry, and I wonder if you could have ever imagined yourself as a software product manager!

KH: Right! We should feel comfortable giving ourselves permission to start and try something we’re interested in. So much of the time, people don’t even feel they’re allowed to do things, like try sculpting, and that’s just not OK.

LB: I totally feel that way with my job. My title isn’t “writer” or “editor”, and saying I want to try it feels kind of taboo!.Yet, here I am, interviewing you for an article and writing for the website!

KH: Yeah, I get a sense that people feel disloyal if they want to try out something new. Then, there is the whole issue of imposter syndrome: “But I don’t actually know what I’m doing…”, “What if it’s not good enough?”

LB: It seems like the key for us was just letting the transformation be gradual. We weren’t even aware of it at the beginning. Not to say that we weren’t making an effort — at the same time, this all requires a willingness to jump in and try new things. You could say, “Oh, well I was just thrown into this situation and had to adapt”, but we should definitely give ourselves credit, too. It sounds like you took a lot initiative with your project and really brought something new to it.

This was a very empowering conversation for me, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to talk with Kate. I think our stories illustrate a few concepts:

  • Success doesn’t come all at once.
  • Skills are developed simply by doing them. As long as you’re doing it, you’re moving ahead even if you’re not doing “great”.
  • You don’t need to ask for anyone’s permission to learn a new skill, give anything you’re interested in a try!

Take a moment to name one thing you’ve learned or rediscovered in your current job. Next, imagine how you can use it in or outside your workplace in a new way. What greater role might this play in your career and life?

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Register for “Own Your Own Football: Conflict Communication and Resolution Strategies”

Join us for de la Femme’s kickoff event on September 28. The topic will be on Conflict Communication and Resolution Strategies for successful professional management.

What you say and do matters for the outcome you want in any given situation.  Whether at the workplace or in our personal lives, we have all been through scenarios where communication barriers result in negative and costly outcomes.  There is always a time, when you need to listen and a time to speak up for yourself.  Ever wonder when is the time to speak and when to listen?  Oliver Wendell Homes Sr. once said, “It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”  Join us with Michele Whitham to learn the insights/skills of successful professional self-management and hone in some practical workplace conflict resolution strategies.

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Date/Time: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 6 PM.

Location: The Broad Institute, Kendall Sq, Cambridge, MA.

Dinner and drinks will be provided.  Registration is required, sign-in upon arrival.

Register at dlf-conflict-communication.eventbrite.com (Early registration by 9/21 for $10! Register Now)

Visit our website!  

Read a story about conflict communication by one of our members: http://womenaccelerators.org/2016/09/seeing-the-silver-lining-in-a-conflict/

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Michele Whitham

Michele Whitham is an established employment and privacy lawyer, community leader and owner of Whitham Law LLC, serving clients in Massachusetts, the United States and worldwide. She is a former Co-Managing Partner of Foley Hoag LLP, where she practiced for twenty-five years, and is a well-known lawyer who has been recognized nationally for her accomplishments.

Her many accolades include recently being listed in The Best Lawyers in America® for Employment Law – Management, co-leading the launch of the inaugural Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts’ Women’s Leadership Initiative, and being named one of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly’s Top Women in the Law. Michele is a 2015-2016 Inductee into the National Association of Professional Women and the Association’s VIP Woman of the Year Circle; a director of the Partnership Inc. (promoting diversity in management ranks).

 

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Seeing the Silver Lining in a Conflict

Written By Kate Hardy.

For most people, conflict is uncomfortable at best and downright nerve-racking at worst. I’ve met few people that genuinely Conflict Communication imagelike conflict, but since we all have different backgrounds, opinions and experiences, conflict is simply unavoidable from time-to-time. I don’t think it has to be a wholly terrible thing though. I know you may read that and think I’m crazy, but bear with me here for a minute: If we work to change our mindset about disagreements, they can become powerful learning tools.

I think about times that I’ve experienced conflict at work. There’s one instance in particular that really rises to the top for me, and it was a disagreement about how to handle a project for a client. I had one idea, and a colleague had a very different idea: I saw an opportunity to add a new feature into our software product that I felt would increase the value for our customer, whereas my colleague felt that we should not do any development work to the software until the customer had used it as-is and requested changes. The debate about which methodology would work best got a bit heated, and although there were no personal slights, I walked away from the disagreement feeling flustered and upset. I ruminated on this all day, and found that it had really gotten under my skin.

By the time my day had ended and I was at home, the distance from the problem had given me a shift in perspective. I had gotten upset that my colleague had disagreed with me, yet I had also disagreed with him. I considered the reasons why he felt his method worked better (no development time spent on what could potentially be a wild goose chase), and I had to admit that he did put forth some genuinely good insight. But then I also recognized that, as the person that worked with this client almost daily, I already knew what they needed at a bare minimum to finish the project, so it was up to me to put that into small, actionable steps that would both impress the customer and not be overly taxing on our developers. I started to form a new methodology over the course of my evening, and when I went into work the next day, I had resolved to walk into my colleague’s office and tell him I had considered his ideas, and I wanted to propose something new that took the best from both of our opinions. Turns out, he really liked my new proposition.

It obviously takes two to tango in a conflict. Sometimes the other person doesn’t play fair. Sometimes the other person can’t be reasoned with or wants to pull rank. Conflict isn’t always going to have a rosy, picture-perfect outcome. But if we consistently steel ourselves for the worst in a disagreement, we’re setting ourselves up for a painful situation. And oftentimes it can feel really good to be the person that is able to step back and say, “You know what? Your ideas are good, and here’s what I like about them. I also think I can contribute in this way.” Consider a time when you’ve been on the receiving side of someone offering an olive branch like that – it’s a relief, right? And if you’re like me, I can’t help but respect the person that a bit more.

Communication in conflict has as much to do with clearly explaining your position as it does with actively listening and understanding the position of someone else. At the end of the day, we all want to be heard. It helps me to remember that my experiences give me a unique opinion, and they are not the same experiences as someone else. By working together, a middle-ground path can make both people in a conflict feel heard and pave the way forward.

 

 

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