PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND MENTORING FOR YOUNG WOMEN
By Tahlia Cummings
Entering the workforce is the first opportunity for a young woman to engage with others on a professional level. She must prove herself to her peers and superiors, learn the culture of a new organization and demonstrate fledgling skills. Armed only with some life experience, a degree and skills learned in school, she’s expected to make decisions that impact an organization, map out her career goals, and possibly affect other people’s lives. Talk about a trial by fire.
As experienced professionals, we could roll the dice and hope that young employees make the right decisions for themselves, our organizations and, ultimately, our society – but it makes more sense to invest some of our time and talent to guide them in the right direction. In this sink or swim world, it is critical to spend time reaching out to those who are just finding their footing professionally. Given the increase in women in the workforce globally, and the barriers women face in terms of management roles and salaries, giving back to those who are just starting out on a path similar to our own is worth every minute spent.
One of the major components of my own success was having knowledgeable women in my life who offered different perspectives and exposed me to ideas and experiences I would not have gotten otherwise. Particularly as I entered the corporate environment, it was their guidance and wisdom that taught me how to approach difficult situations. It also provided me the confidence to take on more challenging work and set higher expectations for myself.
Professional Development in the Workplace
In some cases, opportunities to provide career-related support can be easy to come by. Your company may offer professional development programs, forums or networks that match women with corporate mentors to guide them through the professional world. As you talk to young professionals searching for new employment opportunities, encourage them to ask if the organizations they’re considering have established career development programs.
An individual development plan (IDP) is a helpful tool for young professionals. Typically, an IDP sets career goals, plans learning experiences and tracks professional progress based on an identified growth area at the organization. By assisting a young woman in areas identified in an IDP, you can provide direction on how to help her grow from a team member to a leader.
Here are some additional ways you can provide professional support:
- Select women in leadership roles to participate: invite existing influencers to be a part of your professional development program
- Work to develop new talent: identify and support those who have the potential to lead
- Increase your influence: foster the retention and promotion of women within the workforce through unique development experiences and engagement with senior executives
- Maintain a varied workforce: attract, develop and retain diverse women who can provide alternate viewpoints
- Become a career coach: provide assessment tools and feedback that can challenge an individual to achieve higher levels of performance
Keep in mind that regardless of where you are in your career, the opportunity to inspire and lead others is ever present. If you find that your organization does not have appropriate professional development programs, become an ambassador for change and help create one!
Mentoring in Other Ways
Another way to offer assistance to women is to consider dedicating your time and talents to a local mentoring program. Often found through religious or community organizations, these programs provide an opportunity to serve those who may not have access to other resources.
If you have the time to make a full commitment, consider joining a long-term mentoring program. These programs typically offer assistance for a set amount of time (such as during the school year) or focus on key topic areas (e.g., passing exams, gaining study skills or participating in cultural events). Such organizations generally require a minimum number of hours per month to ensure that mentors and mentees are appropriately engaged. It’s also important to understand the boundaries of the program you are affiliated with.
Take these tips and invest some time today in someone else’s life. And remember, the reward goes both ways. As you pay it forward, know that there is a benefit for you as well. Mentoring provides a valuable opportunity to learn about yourself as you give back.