When I entered the Air Force many years ago, I was told that I needed a “Sponsor” to help ensure my rise through the ranks. My Sponsor should be a higher ranking officer who was upwardly mobile. My Sponsor should also have a Sponsor who was a well-connected senior ranking officer who is on track for General’s rank. The trick to the system was picking the right line of Sponsors. At the very top of the officer ranks there were rivalries and the senior officer in your sponsorship line could instantly fall out of favor or lose status to a rival. If either of these happened, the entire line of sponsorship would suffer the consequences and once bright careers would be dead in the water.
The whole concept of sponsorship was to work the politics of the merciless up-or-out system.
In addition to a Sponsor, I also needed a Mentor. Sponsors and Mentors may not be one in the same. Mine were very different. The job of your mentor was to teach the ins and outs of doing the job. My first mentor was my supervisor and his career was in the toilet – but – he knew everything about everything! He mentored two of us and we got exposed to…well…the stuff you don’t see if you have to worry about politics. He was a cowboy who took risks and also took the hits as they came.
I always say that I wish everyone could have the same experiences early in their career as I had in mine. I learned soooo much!!!
But this system that I first learned was inherently male.
As a woman, I was aware of the competition within it and something about it never felt quite natural. I was much more comfortable with the idea of a Mentor than a Sponsor and I really liked having a Mentor who no longer had any skin in the game. As I have now learned, this is an inherently female reaction.
For thousands of years, women have mentored each other. Actually we have done more – older, more experienced women pass their wisdom to younger women. It is how women and their communities survived and thrived. This custom is now engrained within us.
Grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters share experience, information and knowledge. Just today at lunch I sat at a table next to an older women and young woman. Their conversation consisted of the older woman imparting her wisdom to the younger woman. The younger woman also talked about the advice her mother gave to her on the situation.
How many of us as new mothers called our mothers for advice? Or had our mothers present when we came home with our first baby? We asked for more than emotional support – we asked our mothers how to take care of the baby, why the baby was acting a certain way and we bounced the advice of a Pediatrician off of other mothers who we probably trusted more.
As women we trust our instincts and experience. As we get older we this becomes our body of wisdom that we have an inherent need to share without concern of what others think.
This wisdom sharing which helps us raise families and create our homes, now needs to be applied to our work life. The problem is that we don’t have a great body of wisdom on how to be successful business women. It is as if we are back in time thousands of years learning how to survive for the first time.
We are only just beginning to gather our little pearls of wisdom and we must do so conscientiously. We must go about this understanding that future generations of women are depending on us for their future survival.
Just like we did thousands of years ago, we must share our wisdom so younger generations don’t have to start from scratch. We must tell our stories of what worked and what didn’t work until the successful practices become natural and inherent to us.
Today, many of us network and this is critical. But as we network, we need to share experiences. Networking for women has a deeper purpose and meaning than it does to men. Networking for men is about building business connections. For women networking is about wisdom sharing.
One thing we must keep foremost in our thoughts is that wisdom is different from emotional support. Too often we fall into the trap of making each other feel better and fail to solve the underlying problem. We must remember that women have stress endurance and when we make ourselves feel better we enable ourselves to keep forging on even though our real purpose needs to be to solve the problem. It is only by solving problems that we go beyond barely surviving and begin to thrive.
If thousands of years ago women fell into the trap of emotional support then humans never would have survived. A thriving community depended upon women having food skills – knowing where to find food, how to grow food, how harvest food, how to prepare food and how to store food all while taking care of children. Today we have to do the same thing with our business careers – we must develop our business woman skills.
So as you go about your day, gather your pearls of wisdom. Safeguard them. For years I kept spiral notebooks of thoughts and experiences. I compared experiences between jobs – learning they were not all that different!!
In time we can take all of our pearls and string them together, crating a treasure of wisdom that can be passed down from generation to generation.
Here is a link to a website I found – Grandma Got STEM – http://ggstem.wordpress.com Many of the stories are written by family members or others but there are some written by the women themselves. Sites like this make us realize how much we would love to hear these women share their wisdom with us first hand and how much we wish had not been lost to time.
Empowered women wear their pearls of wisdom with pride and share the story of each pearl.
Share your pearls of wisdom and leave a comment.