November 22, 2013 12:35 pm

MBA gender gap: tips on finding a mentor

Kathryn Bishop©Rob Judges

Kathryn Bishop is associate fellow of the University of Oxford Saïd Business School and co-director of Women Transforming Leadership programme. The executive programme examines game changing approaches that female role models have used to resolve complex situations on both a commercial and humanitarian scale. Ms Bishop’s top five tips on finding a mentor are:

1. Decide whether you need advice or access. Research suggests that many women choose a mentor for advice, whereas men choose a mentor for access. If you need advice, your choice of mentor will probably be based on the affinity between you. But in future, you may need help in creating opportunities, rather than advice on how to seize them.

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2. Decide whether you need a mentor or a sponsor. We notice a shift across the globe towards sponsorship, rather than mentoring. The change signals recognition of the importance of help in navigating complex organisations and in identifying the right opportunities.

3. Choose your mentor, don’t wait to be chosen. Ask for short conversations with people you admire and whose advice will be useful to you. Most people are flattered to be asked for their advice and happy to give it. And at the end of the conversation, ask if there is anyone else you could talk to.

4. Understand the difference between a mentor and a coach. Mentors offer access or advice based on their experience, whereas a coach will help you to define what you should do about your issues.

5. Set up an informal contract. Agree with your mentor what they can offer you, but don’t forget to think about what you can offer them in return: insight into your area of the business, or into networks of younger professionals with ideas which may help the mentor, for example.

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