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Advice from Active Mentors

Mon 19 March 2012

, EJ Thompson,

Navigating office politics can be tricky – but there are tactics women can employ to avoid playing games and climb the corporate ladder successfully and graciously. Here are five pieces of advice from women who frequently mentor others.

1. Be your own biggest advocate.
In almost all fields, there are lots of people who are all hungry for the same thing: the same promotion, the same position, the same title. And, no matter how much you think you may deserve it, no one is going to just hand it to you. Parrot gives the following advice: “People will believe in you if you believe in yourself. Don’t waste your life seeking affirmation but instead create opportunities to succeed on your own terms.”

Sara Nelson, Books Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine, adds “No one reaches adulthood without making mistakes or failing or being rejected… It’s hard to remember this when things seem consistently not to go your way…it’s worth looking at what you may be doing to hold yourself back.”
Know your strengths, know your weaknesses, and most importantly, if you believe in yourself and know what you can accomplish, it will pay off.

2. But play nice.
No one likes an ego. “There is NOTHING to be gained by advertising that you are the smartest person in the room, even, especially, if you are,” advises Nelson.
Instead, try to strike the right balance: celebrate your success, and most importantly, the successes of others. Nelson adds, “Look out for yourself, but don’t go out of your way to discourage other people. Do your work, try not to get involved in political intrigue in the office—in fact, pretend you don’t see it even if it’s there. Be polite to everyone—even, especially, the people below you in the hierarchy.”

3. Understand the importance of mentorship.
Classroom education can only take you so far, and it is what you learn in the field that will shape your career. Once you’ve reached the top, teaching others is the best way for your education to continue. Parrot, who notes that she has had two key mentors in her career, views the greatest value of being a mentee as “what I have learned through [my mentors’] tenure and experience in the business… you sometimes need to learn how to do things first hand. ” Second, she continued, when the going gets rough, “you have a friend or mentor who will provide judgment and guidance in much more difficult-to-self-navigate situations.”
Further, being a mentor is a fulfilling business, because it allows you to reflect upon your own journey. Nelson says, “It’s just satisfying to see someone develop her abilities in a field I obviously care a great deal about… and I also like the feeling that mentoring or teaching gives me. When I feel down or unsure about my accomplishments, showing someone else how to do things makes me realize I actually do know what I’m doing.”

And ultimately, the success of another woman can be just as sweet as if it were your own, especially if you’ve been there as they’ve struggled. “When I see someone starting out who has the same kind of passion and self-knowledge [as I do]—who knows what she wants – it’s thrilling to watch her move up the ladder…to get it,” notes Nelson.

4. Figure out the balancing act.
Parrot and Nelson are familiar with the seemingly impossible balancing act. While it’s not easy, they say it is possible to create a successful work life balance.
Both working mothers, they have found ways to make it work, and encourage fellow working mothers to do the same. Parrot notes, “The greatest challenge women face is finding the motivation… to strike a true work-life balance. Many women don’t advocate for this balance and ultimately drop out of the work force because they believe they’re being scrutinized.”

5. Own your power.
To sum it up, be proud of being a working woman. Parrot says she tries to remember the words of Judge Caroline Simon, a champion of women’s rights in the 40s and 50s, way before women’s liberation began in earnest.
“There are four things a woman should know. She needs to know how to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, and work like a dog.”

While the advice might sound a little stodgy to today’s professional women, the spirit is admirable. There is a great strength that comes with being a woman, and it is important to own this power in the workplace. Why hide the fact that you are many things in one: a woman, a worker, a mentor, a mentee, a mother, a daughter, a role-model, and an inspiration? Being a woman gives us a special role in the world, and through it, we can succeed in all roles of life.

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