My parents are civil servants and could not give me survival tips for the corporate world; as for my friends, I was the first to get formal employment and I had no idea on what to expect from the corporate world but boy was I ready! I had done my fair share of using public transport, eating noodles for lunch and supper and using my laptop as a TV/ radio/ thing to do assignments on. However, whatever challenges corporate was going to bring my way I was ready to own a car, complain about bills, order a flat- white latte during meetings and become a CEO. Working was going to be great! But first, I needed to find a mentor
In her book, Lean In, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg covers the topic of mentorship. She talks about how she almost dreads young women approaching her with mentorship requests. I, sadly am of those young women. No, I did not approach Sheryl (cheeky first name basis referral) but I do have a track record of approaching (read as stalking) older successful women with the hopes of establishing a mentorship kind of relationship. In my search I find that some of the women I approach are still trying to figure out the system themselves. They are still working hard to prove that their positions are well deserved whilst navigating up the corporate ladder. Some of them are also moms, so their spare time is a serious luxury! Nevertheless I was determined to be mentored by someone I could identify with, someone who looked like me.
My options were few and far between and when I did manage to find someone, the relationship was close to non-existant. After working for a couple of years, I eventually lost interest in the pursuit of the perfect female mentor and I just focused on building my own brand; how I wanted people to view me. I focused on what I wanted to achieve and what I stood for. It wasn’t until then that I started having experienced people approaching me and asking to mentor me. It was as if I was this small start-up business and some big shot caught wind of me and thought, “Company Ziyanda has potential and I have the means to get it to where it needs to be” and so they invested.
These “Investors” have turned out to be the best mentors I could have asked for and the amusing thing is none have been the same gender nor the same race as me. Forming relationships with these individuals has allowed me to get a different perspective on things and has opened a world of opportunities. My mentors would say things like “Hey, why don’t you try that / Go there / Do this?” and I would be sitting there thinking “What? I can do that? You really think I deserve it? Am I qualified to?” but I would trust them and take their advice and every time that I have, my life has changed for the better.
However, even with the best mentors, one still needs that catalyst to their personal career progression; a sponsor. This person need not be active in your day to day role, but they need to know what you’re doing and what you’re capable of and they need to market you to the right people. It goes without saying that this individual needs to carry a lot of influence, so no, your colleague Sam who you frequently have after work drinks with doesn’t really count, even if they think you’re really cool!
I love this simple definition that I found on Catalyst.org that explains the the difference between a mentor and a sponsor: “A mentor talks with you and a sponsor talks about you”. You need some to talk about you! What I have found as well is that as long as you live up to the expectations of your mentor and sponsor, this has a domino effect and next thing multiple people are willing to back you up.
I have been fortunate to have very senior people in the corporate world support me in my career and as a result, I have been afforded opportunities that my equally capable counterparts have not. We (women) need to shake off what Sheryl Sandberg, calls the “Tiara Syndrome“; when you put in the hours, deliver great work and hope that the right people notice and reward you by placing a tiara on your head. But here’s the thing, getting the right people to notice requires a bit of effort and if you’ve grown up being taught humility, it also requires some courage. It’s about owning your work, being diligent, authentic (nobody likes a suck up) engaged (be interested!) and speaking up (without being that guy, you know, the one who is “always busy” yet is always walking around the office starting fruitless conversations?). I wouldn’t refer to this as a hard and fast formula but it has most certainly helped me!
Ziyanda is a Johannesburg based, Zulu girl, who is the reigning lip syncing champion in her neighbourhood and is an Investment Banker on the side. After spending three years as a Marketing professional, she decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a career in the financial industry. She can survive on minimal sleep provided she is fed ice cream at regular intervals. She is passionate about education and enjoys reading, working out and writing about stuff that is on her mind.
Twitter: @zeezilz || Instagram: @ziyandak || Blog: http://themegazeen.blogspot.com/