Humans thrive in mentoring relationships. Throughout our lives, we look to others for guidance, beginning with parents and older siblings, peers, and eventually work colleagues. Not only do workplace mentors serve as an example of how we might navigate our workplace, their very presence is linked to things like improved career outcomes, employee retention, and employee engagement.
In technical fields, which often have difficulty retaining and recruiting employees, mentorship is especially important.
Enthusiastic mentors are hard to come by, but so necessary to keep people–especially women–in technology fields. The success of an industry depends upon the performance of the people in it, which should be reason enough to mentor. But, if you need more reasons, consider that mentors develop their leadership skills, which leads to higher (and higher paying) positions within a company. Mentoring provides a sense of accomplishment that humans need to push forward, and mentoring helps employees and develops relationships and teams.
What makes a good mentor?
Across industries, there are some things that all good mentors do: they enter into the role enthusiastically and without coercion. They’re excited to help others. They’re knowledgeable, and inquisitive. Good mentors know how to listen and are willing and equipped to distribute feedback. They’re respectful of others, experienced in their field, and they work to form connections with those who need a mentor. Every individual may have slightly different ideas about what makes a person a good mentor for them, so this list is likely to get longer–but when it comes down to it, there are some basic qualities we all want in our leaders.
Mentorship in STEM jobs
In a 2016/2017 study conducted by the University of Colorado, researchers found that around 30% of STEM workers surveyed had experienced poor mentoring “frequently”–and that a breakdown in the mentoring relationship significantly impacted their work and research. Interestingly, 70% of surveyed mentors felt that they rarely mentored poorly–so where is the breakdown?
In part, poor mentoring happens because there is no framework for mentorship in STEM programs. Untrained mentors just aren’t as effective without some additional instruction, and they’re not getting it.
Tips for up-and-coming mentors
In the aforementioned study, respondents ranked patience, honesty, listening, and communication as qualities they wanted in both a mentor and themselves. For some people, these come naturally. For others, they’re a developed skill. Ideally, STEM graduate school programs would focus on developing workplace mentors in a field where it can make a world of difference. Unfortunately, most programs fail to address mentorship in a real way.
If you’re a mentor or hoping to become one, it will serve you, those you mentor, and ultimately your industry to hone your skills. Check out online courses, local workshops, and leadership conferences in your area or that you may be able to travel to. Actively cultivate your skill set by seeking out instruction–or your own mentor.
A path for effective mentorship in STEM
While training in academia is likely ideal, mentorship training can happen anywhere, from the lab to the breakroom table. In a perfect world, STEM institutions will implement programs designed to help mentors develop their skills and mentoring philosophy through workshops, regular discussion groups, and study materials.
Good mentorship is even possible across oceans, and in STEM fields, that is often the way it happens. Of course, great collaboration tools like Fusion 360 are essential in these types of mentorship relationships, because they facilitate the all-important communication process and foster collaboration with ease.