In my experience, more formalized mentoring systems can be pretty hard to work with; particularly when I haven’t really worked with that person. In strategy consulting, this makes it more difficulty for the mentor and the mentee. It’s important in these type of relationships that you at least understand the way the other thinks; if you have similar logic and share the same values. Without this, it’s difficult to create the solid basis required for the relationship to work.
For me, the most useful people I can always go to for advice are the project managers or principals that have worked on some of my projects. This experience will enable me to understand if we share similar working patterns and all of the other things necessary for me to trust in what they have to say. I have to be able to look up to them. So I have to understand who they are and what makes them tick. I think that this is the basis of a constructive and truthful mentor-mentee relationship.
Is it helpful if my mentor is a woman at Accenture Strategy? Yes and no. There is some benefit in having a shared perspective; sometimes it’s true that women in leadership roles, in some respects, have a certain way of looking at things and a greater degree of empathy with one another. However, this is not always the case. So I suppose it very much depends on the woman and the issue at hand. It is the approach, to my mind, that outweighs the significance of gender.
Of course there are particular areas where a female mentor is invaluable. Their perspective is informed by their gender. If I wanted guidance on a work/life balance issue, for instance, I’d look towards a woman. If I was thinking of starting a family and wanted to know how someone else had gone about this, I’d ask a woman who had been through this experience. It’s a question of perspective and experience. That’s why I think flexible, more informal mentor-mentee relationships work best.
Ultimately, one person cannot answer all of your questions. A good mentor will recognize what they are best placed to deal with personally and when they need to signpost you to someone else. However, some mentors, I’m sure, feel they should have all the answers. This is very laudable but not always helpful.
As a mentor myself, I always try to help people as much as possible. I can share my own stories. I can learn too. But I never try and offer advice in any area where my experience is limited.