What is mentoring?

Traditionally, mentoring is seen as an advisory relationship, where a more experienced, senior professional provides guidance and insight to a more junior person. More and more, however, we're seeing a need not only for this traditional type of mentoring, but also peer-to-peer networking and guidance. Harriet B's Daughters utilizes both. 


Getting started with 1:1 mentoring

Good mentoring is fulfilling for both parties, but ultimately, a great deal of emphasis should be on the mentee and their goals, needs, and growth. Harriet B's Daughters will screen mentors and mentees in order to make strong, useful matches for the 1:1 mentoring program. 

The first meeting

Prior to the first meeting, the mentor should review the resume, cv, or portfolio of the mentee. Use the first meeting to:

  • Get to know each other. Share about your educational and work history.
  • Establish how the mentee sees herself, what are her short term and long term goals, and what does she hope to get out of mentoring.
  • Also establish boundaries. These can be revisited as necessary, but be frank up front: ask the mentee what she's comfortable getting advice about, if there are topics she wants to keep 'off limits.' Similarly, the mentor should feel free to note any limits of theirs.
  • Figure out the logistical details: how do you want to meet in future?
  • Be clear about confidentiality: discuss it outright and come to agreement.

Building the 1:1 mentoring relationship

Mentoring is a relationship, and it should be mindfully nurtured and tended. A few days before mentoring meetings, check in with each other and make sure you're still good to go. In general, it's a good idea to:

  • Come prepared. As a mentor, be ready to follow up on points of discussion from the last meeting; as a mentee, be prepared to discuss what you've done since you last met, what actions you've taken based on those conversations, and pose new questions or issues. There's no harm in writing down your talking points in advance.
  • If you, as the mentee, have very specific questions (eg, "I've got an opportunity to go to X conference, do you know anything about it?"), pose those to your mentor in advance so they can research or tap their network for insight if needed.
  • Once you have addressed any open issues or new questions, tackle a topic of the day. Perhaps it's an article shared in advance, or discussing a specific subject like 'working in-field, what you need to know'. You can discuss potential topics and choose one for the next meeting.
  • Mentor on issues that are adjacent to a mentee's field: for instance, budding art directors need to understand financial goals and corporate strategy, in order to be able advocate for certain design choices and demonstrate 'leadership' thinking. A young project manager would benefit from mentorship on how to nurture the creative process, and so on.
  • Keep track of issues. It's a good idea to have a dedicated notebook or note system just for mentoring

Realize that sometimes, a mentoring relationship reaches a natural end: people change jobs, have life changes, or a mentee's needs change, to name a few reasons, and a monthly mentoring meeting is no longer needed or viable. In general, a formal mentoring relationship should last about a year. This is fine! Use your last session to say goodbye to the mentoring relationship but establish a peer one. As we've certainly discovered ourselves, yesterday's mentor is tomorrow's colleague, co-presenter, co-author, client, or consultant. You should always feel comfortable reaching back out to each other as needed.


Peer Mentoring

Ours is a weird industry. It's kind of hard to find comps in the Harvard Business Review. Peer mentoring is an important source of support, insight, camaraderie, guidance, and critique. 

Harriet B's Daughters encourages both 1:1 peer mentoring and group peer mentoring. Just like more traditional mentoring, it's important in 1:1 to establish goals, desired outcomes, and parameters. As more established women in the field, this can be as casual as reaching out to a trusted colleague with an oblique email of "Can I rant for a minute? Something is really frustrating me." Feel free to say, "Sure- you want commiseration or ideas?" It's as simple as that: establish the safe space, figure out what the 'mentee' wants to get out of this (giving vent to frustration or constructive ideas), and go from there.

It can also be more formal, like a biweekly call where you check in with each other on what you've got going on and pose a list of 'I need help with' issues. If it's the latter, be sure you close the loop: recap at the end of conversations what your mutual action items are, and begin the next convo with what you've accomplished since the last chat.


These resources will be continually updated. Check back often.

The University of North Carolina has a strong culture of mentoring and significant administrative support. They've pulled together several very straightforward documents:

While it's a little dated, Harvard Business Review's 2010 article on "Mentoring Millennials" may offer you some helpful insight. 


Mentoring Resources