Even though all the experts say that the most critical first step in starting a business is to have a business plan, it’s amazing how many budding entrepreneurs don’t heed this advice. A good plan lays out what your business does, how it can compete successfully, and how it will be managed and run, and also includes financial information like income and expense projections. It should be professional, complete but concise and easy to read. Check out the Scotia Plan Writer for business to guide you.
Another way to help ensure and even accelerate success when starting a business is to find a trustworthy mentor. I hear many successful women entrepreneurs say they wish they’d had the benefit of a female mentor when they launched their businesses. Perhaps research expert in women’s enterprises Dr. Barbara Orser, Deloitte Professor, University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, says it best. “Mentoring is an important tool that can help women gain information and access to powerful networks, obtain feedback and receive objective assessments of marketability. The research shows that mentoring works.”
In one of her studies, Dr. Orser found that women were significantly more likely to be mentored by a female mentor, whereas men were equally likely to be mentored by male or female mentors. Is the gender of the mentor important for the success of the relationship? The same study found that men and women seek mentors for different reasons. Men were more likely looking for mentors to help them achieve autonomy, while women sought development support.
Why should gender matter?
In male- or female-dominated industries, the prospect of the mentee having access to a good role model might come into play. A woman being mentored by a woman in a male-dominated sector is likely to gain networking benefits, too. Or, because men and women tend to seek mentors for different reasons, it’s logical to assume that a stronger bond of understanding between mentor and mentee will be more likely to develop with the same gender.
Regardless of the reason to be mentored, at the end of the day a good mentor is a good mentor. Here are some qualities of good mentors that I have observed:
• Acts as a counsellor/teacher/guide willing to share skills, knowledge, expertise and resources
• Focuses on the mentee’s goals
• Invests time and energy in the relationship
• Provides guidance and constructive feedback – but doesn’t make decisions for the mentee
• Motivates others by setting a good example
Mentoring is not a one-way street. Without being committed to the relationship, mentees will not benefit from the best of mentors – female or male. If you want a successful relationship, you should:
• Be clear and realistic about your development goals
• Be open to feedback and willing to try new things
• Respect the opinion of others but be able to make your own choices and decisions
• Be respectful of the time constraints of your mentor
Both women and men can possess these attributes. So, when it’s all said and done, does gender in mentoring really matter? Many accomplished women entrepreneurs have told me there is something unique about being mentored by other women, especially when they understand the challenges of raising a family while starting and growing a business. As a long-time participant in the Step Ahead One-on-One Mentoring Program for women entrepreneurs, I often hear mentors say that they wish they’d had access to women as mentors when they were starting out. I believe that single-gender mentoring relationships are more likely to bear fruit. What do you think? Can you share the benefits of any mentoring experience you’ve had?