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Opinion: Perfection is not the goal in mentorship

Industry Insight

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Why is it important to mentor women?

Well, if we look just at statistics, the answer is easy. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women made up 46.8 percent of the workforce in 2016. Based on this number alone, if we didn’t mentor women, then we are overlooking a large portion of our workforce.

But here’s the thing, I don’t think “why is it important to mentor women?” is the right question to ask. For me, the real question is twofold.

One: What, as a woman, can I do to help other women who are taking – or want to take – a path similar to mine?

And two: Why is it important that I make time to help?

I’ve come across numerous articles written with the intent to teach women that they are not held back just because of their gender. I don’t relate to those articles because I was never taught any different. Growing up, I was taught I could be or do whatever I put my mind to; gender never entered into this conversation.

Additionally, I have never felt that gender played a limiting role in my career trajectory. In fact, the last two times I was promoted, I was on maternity leave. I work in an office where we have more female attorneys than we do male.

My story is likely different from others, and for me, it is important to mentor women to hopefully serve as an example that they too can enjoy their success without gender-based restraints.

For my entire career, I have been blessed with the best career mentor. My mentor teaches me how to be a better lawyer, helps me navigate my professional path, tells me when I am off my game or when I need to step up, gives me kudos when deserved and generally just looks out for me and my career.

Since I am writing this column about mentoring women, you may find it a little odd that my mentor is a man.

Having a man as a mentor has taught me about the importance of having women role models and mentors in life more than in my career. As I said, I personally never felt like I was treated differently because I was a woman, and my male mentor has made a huge impact for the better on my career. However, as great of a mentor as he is, there are experiences and struggles that I deal with that he just cannot understand.

He could not understand what it’s like to be a single woman with a career, to juggle the tiredness and nausea in the office during the first trimester of pregnancy, or to be a working mom. While men can sympathize, these experiences are unique to working women – just as working dads and stay-at-home dads or moms have unique experiences.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a mentor is a trusted counselor, a guide, a tutor or a coach. When I first started my career, I thought about a mentor as someone who would show me the ropes of my job, help me navigate the politics of my current employer and things of that nature. While that is true, the definition of a mentor is broader. A mentor can be someone who helps someone not just navigate a job but also live life to the fullest while juggling a career.

For me, seeing and talking with other women who have taken a similar path is encouraging. I can grow and learn from watching their experiences. They provide hope when sometimes it feels that no one around me understands what I am going through.

So why do I mentor other women? I hope to provide the same sense of possibility, encouragement and support that has been provided to me. I want to pay it forward.

It is not about being the perfect role model or mentor. It is about being a real one with shared experiences and understanding, and hopefully, making things easier for other women who are trying to achieve the same or greater accomplishments.

Amanda Tummons is a partner at Husch Blackwell LLP and a 2017 Springfield Business Journal Most Influential Women honoree. She can be reached at amanda.tummons@huschblackwell.com.

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