Just a few years ago, I was a recent grad in a new city with no knowledge of how to play the industry game. Fast Company articles didn't provide enough tips for a young, gifted black woman in Corporate America and I needed a guide on how to break through this tough communications market that is New York. I was lucky enough to find guidance in my mentor, Scheron Brown, who has become the shoulder I lean on as life's lemons turned into lemonade.
Many black women continue to struggle to find someone to lift them up and pull them forward in their career because finding a mentor isn't easy, and we just want to be in the presence of greatness to learn the ropes on how to maximize our own potential. Mentorship has become one of the key ingredients many say is needed to move forward in your career. It's the secret sauce many of us are still in search of as we navigate Corporate America and build our brands and businesses.
Here are a few women who share how they found their mentor and how their mentorship has helped them along the way:
Ericka Hatfield, 36
Brand Development Director of SJS Consultants and CEO of The BB Group
"My mentor's name is Florence Mitchell-Brown and her company handles operations for some of the largest production studios and companies in the entertainment business. It started as a business relationship and we had a great rapport. I knew I wanted her to be not only my mentor, but someone who was a part of my life. She is truly my big sister in every way imaginable. I can discuss career strategies, relationships, and my faith with my mentor. I didn't have any set expectations, but I knew that I could learn a tremendous amount from her and she was someone I would benefit from greatly, not only professionally but spiritually and emotionally."
"I believe mentorship plays a huge role in career success, access, and opportunities. It is also a great way to learn and grow from someone you trust. I really focused on finding a mentor in 2015. I was in the beginning stages of being at the senior level of my career and realized I wanted and needed an executive woman as a mentor. I had previously had male mentors but I really wanted a woman as it comes with a different set of challenges that men often do not understand. I knew I wanted to diversify my mentors. I had not previously had a black woman as a mentor and felt that it was a dynamic I had been missing."
"I had not previously had a black woman as a mentor and felt that it was a dynamic I had been missing."
"Make the relationship easy and accessible for your mentor. Calls, emails, Skype, social media, and text are great ways to communicate when you may not always have time for a face-to-face interaction."
Zaina Adamu, 32
Cross-Platform Associate Producer at CNN
"I have several mentors, but the one I meet with the most is Lashana Williams, a senior director at TBS. Speaking with someone regularly who is in a position I'd like to be in one day is motivating. It's a constant reminder that I can achieve my goals. In every situation, my mentorships flourished from simply establishing and building relationships with people I looked up to. Once I found the value in those relationships, I realized how critical they are in my life. No one gets to the top of their industries alone. We all need help."
"When I first found a mentor who was willing to help, I didn't have any expectations, but I've found that they are an essential part of my growth as a professional. Not having one would have made my journey more difficult to navigate. I recognized early that I didn't have all the answers and having someone with more experience and knowledge to guide me has literally been my saving grace. I can't stress enough how important it is to ask for help and be willing to receive it."
"Don't be intimidated by titles. If you see someone you admire, request to meet with them briefly for advice. Everyone loves talking about themselves. Ask them how they reached success in their lives and check in with them periodically to see how they're doing. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself."
Folasade' Ogunnmokun, 28
Owner of Unskrypted TV
"My mentor is Latilda Owens and she is a financial analyst for the Virginia Commonwealth, as well as a mom, business mentor, and active member of the Richmond community. She does it all! Latilda and I have mutual friends and would end up in the same circle and she told me about an organization she was a part of that helped small business owners find guidance. She knew that I was working on my video production business and was interested in my work and my marketing method. Her being intrigued, inclined me to ask questions about how she felt about my work and what she thought I could do better to improve. She suggested I find a mentor through her organization Thrive and invited me to a few business events."
"Latilda advises me on way more than just career goals. She helps me deal with life. I only expected for her to donate information about events, opportunities, and pitch contests. She has given me way more, like how to approach difficult clients or creative blocks. She's like a big sister who speaks up, even when I want to shut my ears. I thought it was important to find a mentor because I felt lost. I always looked up to my parents for answers but as I started to do things that my parents and older siblings never did, I had to find people who understood me and could help me grow. I don't believe you can do it alone and my parents and siblings got me to a certain point but it's up to me to find the help to go the rest of the way."
"A lot of times we overlook the women right in front of our eyes. We've picked out what our perfect mentor will look like, do, and be. Often times we have marked off our perfect match. Your mentor doesn't have to look like you and they certainly don't have to think like you, but they have to have an interest in seeing you succeed. I truly believe that if you put it out there that you want to learn and grow, that you will receive the person that can get you where you need to be. Be receptive and ready to act on the information being given to you, or expect to lose a great relationship."
"A lot of times we overlook the women right in front of our eyes."
Bee Pollard, 26
Writer and Freelance Journalist
"My mentor is a beautiful and successful black woman named Alissa Richardson. She's an award-winning journalist and assistant professor at USC who recently received her doctorate. I wasn't actively searching for a mentor nor did I believe I needed one. However, the moment I met her, I was just overwhelmed with her accolades, her experience, and her warm, welcoming spirit. She really lit the fire under me to hone my skills as a hungry writer, ultimately making me see that I could really make moves with my passion as my bread and butter. I came to her at the end of class about four years ago, and asked her if she minded being my mentor. With a smile, she agreed and our journey began."
"She's pushed me to my limit. Mediocrity was and still is not a word in our vocabulary when it comes to my growth. She's presented me with so many opportunities for writing, editing, producing, and pitching. We've worked together on personal and professional projects that exposed me to the ins and outs of the industry. Allissa's always made time for me, being a shoulder when I needed it, a stern voice when I slacked, and a champion for all my wins. Our mentoring relationship has turned into a true friendship as I see her as my sister. She's given me so much confidence and made me believe that my voice was important. As a black woman in this world, much less this industry, I needed that so desperately."
"She's pushed me to my limit. Mediocrity was and still is not a word in our vocabulary when it comes to my growth."
"Find the person that mirrors your passion, your energy, your drive, and your appearance. There's something so comforting about having a black woman with a similar journey and similar-but-diverse narrative who I can relate to on levels unmatched. Your mentor should not only enrich your life as a career woman, but also be a source of light in your personal times of darkness. My mentor became my sister in a matter of years organically; I encourage all black women to find someone who can do the same."
Donicia Hodge, 30
Brand Creative Project Associate at BET Networks
"I have been lucky enough to have several mentors in my life during every stage of my professional career. One of my mentors' name is Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, retired. He inspired me to travel and get my Master of Science International Communications degree from St. John's University. I just always remember him saying, 'Don't let anyone take away your dreams. You go out there and make me proud.' If it wasn't for him, I would've never gone back to school or travel as much as I do now. My other mentor, Kai Brown welcomed me with open arms at BET. We have our bi-weekly check-ins and she makes me think about my future, which has helped me in my career thus far."
"It's already hard enough for young black women to move up in a higher position and better salary in the work environment. Surround yourself with people that have similar interests as you and you may find your mentor in that space naturally. When it happens, you'll know. Last, but not least, closed mouths don't get fed!"
These women found people to uplift them and pull them forward in their careers. Do you have a mentor? How has your mentor made a difference in you life?
Featured image by Getty Images