Women need mentors to get ahead in business, authors say Who you know can be vital to climbing the career ladder.

July 06, 1992|By Rose DeWolf | Rose DeWolf,Knight-Ridder News Service

"If women want to get ahead in business, they can't just do a good job and then wait to be recognized and rewarded. They have to seek out somebody who can be helpful," says Ardmore, Pa., writer Pat Shapiro, co-author of a new book called "Women, Mentors and Success."

Or, as co-author Joan Jeruchim puts it, "The helpless maiden stereotype is out."

Ms. Jeruchim, a Paoli, Pa., therapist, met Ms. Shapiro through a group called the Main Line Women's Network. That got both thinking about networking and mentoring, said to be the ways men get ahead in business, as in the old adage: "It isn't what you know, but who you know."

The pair interviewed more than 100 successful women and found the majority believed that knowing the right someone had helped their careers. Seventy-seven percent said they had had mentors -- mostly male, since men tend to be those in power.

They define a mentor as someone older and more experienced who develops a long-standing relationship with a protege, guiding, teaching, supporting and promoting.

"Getting a mentor can be a matter of chemistry," they say. The senior person simply likes the junior one and wants to help. But they advise that an ambitious woman should try to find the person with whom that chemistry is likely to occur.

They suggest starting out by simply asking for help. "It's flattering to be asked for help," says Ms. Jeruchim, "because it means someone holds you in high regard."

That advice is the same that would be given to men, but Ms. Jeruchim and Ms. Shapiro claim it's more difficult for women to follow it, in part because many men are simply uncomfortable dealing with women and in part because many male executives, even if they want to help, are afraid to do so. They fear that either the woman or their colleagues will misinterpret their interest.

But where finding a mentor is possible, Ms. Jeruchim and Ms. Shapiro don't think a woman should be sensitive to another kind of office opinion -- the one that says "she's advancing only because she's teacher's pet."

"This is messy," says Ms. Shapiro, "but office politics is not a fair fight. People help you if they like you."

The two claim that, unlike men, women seem to need different types of mentors for different stages of their career. Ms. Shapiro explains: "A women in her 20s needs a gung-ho mentor for whom career is all. But in her 30s, she could use a woman mentor who can guide her through the problems of combining home and career."

They advise trying to have more than one mentor. That also helps, says Ms. Shapiro, if the first mentor goes away or falls out of favor.

Both agree that a woman who fails to find a mentor at the office need not give up hope. She might still find those who will help them on a short-term basis or might find a substitute mentor by joining an organization of peers who help each other.

And then, upon achieving success, they say, women should consider becoming mentors and helping another woman along.

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