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A Mindful Approach to Mentoring


While I often promote mindfulness as a core tenet of a healthy privacy practice, there are other ways to bring mindfulness into our professional lives. This week I wanted to take a moment to draw attention to the value of mentoring.

We have all benefitted from mentors. It is easy to let the demands of a busy professional life eclipse our memory of those who helped us on our journey and temporarily blind us to the opportunity to pay it forward. By pausing, reflecting gratefully, and affirming our values, we can honor our mentors and use our experience to mentor others.

Who Were Your Mentors?

One of my first legal jobs was at the law firm of Thelen, Reid, & Priest in San Francisco (first as a summer associate and then 3 years as an associate).  A partner, Jenny Kuenster, took a personal interest in me and my career development. In addition to her encouragement and willingness provide me with interesting projects, she led by example. As a leader at the firm, she represented a real role model for me. As the saying goes, “you have to see it to be it,” and she was one of the first women in a professional leadership role I had the pleasure to learn from.

While I was as in-house counsel for Walmart, my manager for a time, Tim Cheatham, furthered my career and personal development. He was always looking out for me and my team, providing air cover with the executives, and genuinely wanted me to be successful. His advocacy and openness helped me feel comfortable “managing up” and give him honest feedback to further our professional relationship.

Sharing mentorship stories is an excellent way to inspire others and carry on a culture of mentorship. Who were your mentors? What’s your story? Reach out and thank your mentors!

The Need for Women Mentors in Tech

While my mentors have been both men and women, recent research out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst shows just how vital female mentors are to the success of women, especially in tech.

As reported by CNN in the article “The problem with the lack of female leaders,” a pilot mentorship program at Amherst has shown how “identifying with and feeling connected to a female mentor can in turn influence women’s success in the field,” and that “mentors are especially important during periods of transition for mentees: during freshman year of college, graduation or even in their first jobs.” During the study, “a whopping 100% of female engineering students paired with female mentors stayed in their major for a sophomore year.

The piece also highlights a few personal stories from women who have experienced first-hand the benefits of female mentorship in traditionally male-dominated sectors. As their stories reveal, the empathy from mentors “who have been there” is vital for nurturing upcoming generations and building confidence.

Best Practices for Mentors & Mentees

Whether you’re on either side of the relationship, both mentors and mentees benefit from awareness, mindfulness, curiosity, and empathy. Bringing these qualities to the collaboration in equal measure fosters productive communication.

From a practical perspective, it can be useful to formalize the relationship. What are the goals? How often should we connect? What’s the best method of contact (i.e. in-person, phone, email, etc.)?

If you’re going to mentor someone, there are also some qualities you’ll want to be mindful of as well:

· Begin with a true desire to share your knowledge and experience.

· Be flexible and approachable with a positive attitude.

· Accept where a mentee is in terms of their professional development or years of experience.

If you’re a mentee be aware of the ways you can enhance the quality of the relationship:

· Be specific in your “asks.” Specific topics, situations, and questions are more productive than a general desire to “help me grow.”

· Be prepared for your discussions and meetings with mentors. Show you respect their time and expertise.

· Remain open to feedback. Constructive criticism can sting sometimes, but it’s often exactly what you need to hear most.

Mentoring Resources for Women in Security & Privacy

There’s no reason to rely on luck if you’re looking for a mentor or want to help someone. There are resources available for women in security and  privacy working to advance the cause of mindful mentorship. Here are two to get you started:

1. Check out the WISP (Women In Security and Privacy) Tandem program and learn a little bit more about the program’s principles. The WISP Tandem program “matche(s) women based on their areas of expertise and interest.”

2. Explore the IAPP (International Association of Privacy Professionals) Women Leading Privacy community. According to the website, “Women Leading Privacy is where many of today’s top privacy professionals come to give and get career support, to help advance women in the field and to expand their personal and professional networks with a slew of opportunities created just for them.”

Reach Your Hand Out

Hopefully you’ll integrate mindful mentoring into your professional life. As former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama said in her remarks at the Love and Happiness Concert: Student Workshop:

“All of us are mentors. You’re mentors right here and now. And one of the things I’ve always done throughout my life, I have always found that person, that group of people that I was going to reach my hand out and help bring them along with me.”

We all have something to share and can be mindful in how we bring others along the mentorship path.

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