Sunday, April 15, 2012

Do Men Make Better Mentors?

Do Men Make Better Mentors?

with friend and former colleague at the conference
Friday I attended the South Bay Conference for Women here in Los Angeles.  Two of the
keynote speakers were powerful women who live in our area: 

Susan Sweet talked in great detail about her rise to power at Neutrogena.  One interesting item she pointed out - that I have also experienced - is that the men she has worked with have taken a much greater role in mentoring and championing her career than the women.  

When you consider statistically how far behind women lag in leadership roles in ANY industry, and you hear this comment - which resonated with my entire table of women - it makes you wonder.  Is it really men that are holding us back, or are we holding ourselves back?  

I haven't worked in traditional corporate America since I left a large law firm in 2004.  I have been busy being an entrepreneur and thus my own boss.  So, I realize my situation is a little different now on the mentor front.  That said, I did have a fabulous woman mentor in Law School.  And when I got to the law firm, I "thought" I had a mentor in one of the powerful women there, but it turns out, that was not the case (funny story below).  

In the alternative, I worked mostly with men at this large law firm, and while there were certainly inappropriate  events that occurred, (I was the only female and most junior attorney on a very large nation wide litigation team), I did have male mentors at that firm.  

In fact, to this day, one of the top partners at that law firm (who is the hardest working and most talented attorney I have ever worked with) is my mentor.  I trust him implicitly.  He genuinely cares about my career and my life.  That genuine relationship has not wavered a single day since I left the firm in 2004, despite the very different path I took. 

I would welcome a female mentor because there are certain issues that only other women can relate to (working and having children from a mother's point of view for example), but other than my law school mentor, I have had far more success in garnering support from the male professionals in my life.

Obviously being at a Women's Conference you know there are like minded women who truly do want to champion one another.  It just seems like when you enter the business arena, something changes and competition and jealousy ensues more often than it should.

(Also, I think that the statistics are so low for women in leadership roles because of the "baby making years" and it is really difficult to take a break and get back in the race at the same pace.  That is for a totally different discussion). 

My funny "female mentor" story is this.  When I left the law firm to start Cameron Nicole Designs (accessory design company), I created an entire collection called "The Elizabeth Collection," inspired by who some deem the first true Feminist, Queen Elizabeth I.  I named each handbag after a woman that I found inspirational.  Mostly historical figures.  But, one bag was named after this female attorney who had recruited me to my former law firm.  I named a handbag after her.  I took the bag to the law firm to show her.  I wanted to give her a gift so gave her color and leather choices so I could special order a bag for her use.   (it was a $400.00 dollar bag, if that helps the story at all).

She laughed, and told me she doesn't carry bags in that style.  Then went on to describe the designers and looks she prefers.  She made it very clear she would not be carrying her namesake handbag.  I forgot about that story until last Friday at the conference.  I don't think I ever told anyone, even my husband.  It was hurtful at the time, but I was way too busy to dwell because business was actually good.   A mentor?  Not so much.

I don't know about you, but if someone designed ANYTHING (a dog collar, a cheese, a donut, a red hairy handbag that looked like Elmo) in my name and inspired by ME - no matter if it was my personal taste - I would be honored, flattered, and I would say Thank  You.  Thank You alone would have been sufficient. 


What is your Career Experience with mentors, or people who help champion your career?

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Shannon O'Neill said...

Agreed!!! My best mentor, a man. All Would love to hear your thoughts on Facebook COO Sheryl Sanderg's talks on women in the workforce. Just google Sandberg Barnard commencement. Great blog Cameron!! -- Shannon

Cameron said...

Shannon, thanks for your input. I have a friend who works at facebook and has told me some of what Sheryl has said, but I'll do some more digging as I'm curious to read more. Thanks for weighing in. It's so odd to me. We gotta help each other out my sistah! I hope you are well, thanks for the feedback!

kelly c said...

Cameron, ouch! I think that is an incredible hurtful thing to say and do and can't imagine what her thought process was in telling you that. I think any kind of gift ESPECIALLY one designed in your honor should be accepted graciously even if you didn't think you would use it. What a meanie! I have found in my job, having the one woman boss in a field where there were mostly men, a lot of women co-workers were envious of my position thinking she was so cool when I actually found she held me back a little, whether concious or subconcious I don't know. She left and I now have a male boss who keeps me much more involved. on a side note, I thought all your bags were really fab!

Anonymous said...

Hard to say as a man what the experience is like on the other side, but I have actually had a few female mentors in retail banking, and the classic nuturing instincts made them great mentors. They seemed to care for the person first and how that impacted performance v men who were more bottom line oriented and ask if you saw the game on the side. Are women really not mentoring out there, or are we better across genders than within genders? Who knows....

BonBon Rose Girls Kristin said...

I've had amazing mentors in both sexes!

Amelia @ Eating Made Easy said...

I totally agree - so many women have helped me out in my entrepreneurial journey that I love helping others out too when I can. It really does help us all thrive!

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