Mentoring

Studies show that people who have had mentors, who have had someone to provide “sponsorship, exposure, visibility, coaching, protection, and challenging assignments – activities which directly relate to the protégé’s career” do indeed experience more career advancement than people who have not had mentors [1].  In a study of 1241 American executives, 67% of all respondents said they had a mentor [2].  Which just goes to show  – it’s who you know.  That’s how, why, they are executives.

Given that it’s a 1979 statistic, presumably the respondents are referring to an informal mentorship, which arises spontaneously, as opposed to a formal mentorship, which is arranged by the organization as part of a mentoring program.  The problem in both cases, however, is that most people who are in a position to mentor, a position of power and prestige, a well-connected position, are men.  Still.  So sexism keeps women from becoming protégés – because even if the guy’s wife is fine with it, everyone will wonder whether she’s sleeping her way to the top and that’ll handicap her, essentially cancelling any advantage of the mentorship.  Furthermore, women who could be mentors avoid mentoring other women because they fear being labelled feminist troublemakers.  Why don’t men fear mentoring other men for fear they’ll be labelled – what, part of the old boys’ network?

All that aside, it seems to me that mentoring is unfair: it makes ‘it’s who you know not what you know’ true.  Merit becomes not the sole criterion for advancement.

Though perhaps mentoring counters chance.  Chance is unfair too.  With mentoring, those who do get doors opened for them are those who deserve it.  But to say ‘All A are B’ doesn’t mean ‘All B are A’: to say ‘All those who are mentored have merit’ doesn’t mean ‘All those with merit become mentored’.  And, of course, I’m not sure mentors choose their protégés according to merit.

So why do mentors choose who they choose?  Why do mentors mentor at all?  I wonder if it isn’t just some primitive lineage impulse in action.  You know… men need a son, someone to carry on the family name.  And since it’s more and more unlikely that men have actual sons in a position to be their protégés …  Do mentors tend to choose sons of friends when available?  Do they tend to choose people who are twenty to thirty years younger, in the ‘son’ age bracket?  What about women who mentor?  (More likely, their motive is social justice, not personal legacy.)

I’m not saying people shouldn’t seek, or give, advice and guidance.  That’s not what mentoring is all about.  A mentor does more than that: a mentor introduces you to influential people in the organization, facilitates your entry to meetings and activities usually attended by high-level people, publicly praises your accomplishments and abilities, recommends you for promotion, and so on.  But see here’s the thing.  Introductions should be unnecessary.  Meetings attended by high level personnel shouldn’t be open to others.  Everyone’s accomplishments and abilities should be praised publicly.  Only your immediate supervisor or some named designate should be able to recommend you for a  promotion.  And so on.

In any case, the need for mentors means the organization isn’t structured to advance based on merit.  So shouldn’t mentors’ efforts instead be directed to making sure that it is?  To making sure that mentors aren’t needed?  You shouldn’t need a mentor to open doors because the doors shouldn’t be locked.  You shouldn’t need a mentor to give you inside information because there shouldn’t be any inside information: an organization’s policies and procedures should be written out for all to read, perhaps even presented at a new employee training session (and there should be no unwritten policies, no under-the-table procedures); any preferences for application materials, be it for a job, a promotion, or a grant, should be stated on the application form itself, or perhaps explained in a separate ‘Tips for Applicants’ sheet; and knowledge of any available job, promotion, or grant should be freely accessible to all.  Influential people should use their influence only in formal channels; their authority should only be that vested in them by the terms of their job description.

Men are so proud of not mixing pleasure and business, of separating the personal from the public.  Bullshit.  Aren’t a lot of critical connections, let alone decisions, made on the golf course?  At the bar?  Between conference sessions?  It seems that by ‘personal’ and ‘pleasure’ they just mean women – wives, daughters, sexual liaisons.  They leave the women in their lives out of consideration.  But their relationships with their buddies and their sons – these are very much brought into the workplace.

 

[1] “Formal and Informal Mentorships: A Comparison on Mentoring Functions and Contrast with Non-mentored Counterparts,” Georgia T. Chao and Pat M. Walz  Personnel Psychology 45.3 (1992)

[2] “Much Ado about Mentors,”  B. Roche.  Harvard Business Review 5.7 (1979)

Another poem from chris wind – thought this one especially apt since it’s September and students are back at university…it’s from her book dreaming of kaleidoscopes

 

To My Philosophy Professors

 

Why didn’t you tell me?

When I was all set to achieve Eudamonia

through the exercise of Right Reason,

When I was eager to fulfil my part

of the Social Contract,

When I was willing, as my moral duty,

to abide by the Categorical Imperative

When I was focussed on Becoming,

through Thesis and Antithesis to Synthesis–

 

Why didn’t you correct me?

Tell me that Aristotle didn’t think I had any reason,

That according to Rousseau,

I couldn’t be party to the contract,

That Kierkegaard believes I have no sense of duty

because I live by feeling alone,

That Hegel says I should spend my life

in self-sacrifice, not self-development,

That Nietzsche thinks I’m good for pregnancy

and that’s about it–

 

Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t included?

 

(Perhaps because you too had excluded me

from serious consideration;

Or did you think I wouldn’t understand?)

 

(I do.           I do understand.)

 

1987

School Crossing Signs

You’ve seen the signs I mean – silhouette figures of two children about to cross the road: one boy, one girl.  (How do we tell?  One’s wearing a skirt.)  (That’d be the girl.)  (Really, do most girls still wear skirts to school?)

So, yes, let’s emphasize sex.  Boy and Girl.  Ms. and Mr.  Nothing else matters.

And nothing else is possible.

Note that the boy is taller. ‘Oh, but they are.’  Not at that age! Taller suggests older which suggests more mature, wiser.  And just in case you miss this not-so-subtle suggestion of male authority, look, he has his hand on the little girl’s shoulder – guiding, protecting, patronizing.  It will be there for the rest of her life.

Just to make sure of that, Read the rest of this entry »

Canada Day – Are you sure you want to celebrate?

Before you get all patriotic and fly your little Canadian flags in celebration of Canada Day and, presumably, of being Canadian, think about it. Are you really proud to be: Read the rest of this entry »

Air Bands and Power Point

I still remember the feeling I had when I saw my first air band performance. It was a sick kind of feeling.

I hadn’t known what an air band was. The announcement came over the p.a. at my school-for-the-day, and I dutifully shepherded the class to the gym. Then I watched, incredulous, as group after group of high school students came on stage and pretended to play their favourite songs. I mumbled a query to the teacher standing next to me. Apparently this air band stuff was quite big. Students spent weeks practising. They really wanted to get it right. ‘It’ being the appearance, the pretence. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Frankenstein, meet Dr. Spock

Thanks to genetic research, we may soon see people with the money to do so making sure their kids are born-to-succeed – parents paying to guarantee their kids have the right stuff.  I’m not talking about a straightened spine or a functional optic nerve.  I’m talking about designer kids: those made with healthy bodies, intelligent minds, and perhaps a certain specific ability to boot. Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Little Kids

So I heard on the news the other day about the poor little kids whose school backpacks are so full of books they’re developing debilitating back pain…  Oh please.

If they’d worked on their homework during the time allotted for just that purpose, instead of text messaging the person next to them, one painstaking letter at a time, to send the monumentally important query ‘hey brittiny ow r u’, they wouldn’t have so much left over to take home.

If they’d paid attention during class, engaged their minds in the mental effort required to learn something, they might have even finished it during that allotted time.

If they wore their backpacks properly with both straps over their shoulders and high up, instead of oh-so-fashionably slung low over one shoulder, they wouldn’t develop such back pain.

If mandatory physical education hadn’t’ve been cancelled, or if they actually played outside after school instead of watching tv, or walked the five blocks to and from school instead of getting chauffeured by mom or dad, they might have enough strength in their little backs  –  wait a minute  –  are these the same kids for whom pens with rubberized grips are designed because the user’s thumbs and forefingers are just too weak to hold onto them firmly otherwise?

Being There

I recently read a lament about work attitudes, about how more and more people seem to think that just being there is enough, that their paycheque is for putting in time rather than for actually doing anything, let alone for doing a good anything, that people feel no guilt about the mistakes they make, nor do they feel any desire to do better.

I’d like to offer some comments in defense, or at least in explanation, of that position.  Read the rest of this entry »

Government Grants for Grad School

So – this was quite a while ago – a colleague at work, another part-timer, who was also going to grad school, got a government grant. She’d be getting $675/month to cover her living expenses. I’d spent five years saving $10,000 to cover my living expenses (hopefully it wouldn’t take more than ten months to get my degree).

She’s ‘native’. Well, she was born in Canada same as me, actually in the same year even, but her parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents were living here before the Europeans moved in.

So, the argument goes, Read the rest of this entry »

Boy Books

Boy books. You’re thinking The Boys’ Book of Trains and The Hardy Boys, right? I’m thinking most of the books I took in high school English.

Consider Knowles’ A Separate Peace. Separate indeed. It’s set at a boys’ boarding school. The boys are obsessed with jumping out of a tree. This involves considerable risk of crippling injury. And yet they do it, for no other reason than ‘to prove themselves’. Now my question is ‘What are they proving themselves to be – other than complete idiots?’ We don’t get it. Read the rest of this entry »