What Do Women Want From Mentoring?

Mentoring Women

When 3 women in the one week recently approached me for mentoring, I found myself re-visiting one of the small number of books in my extensive library that I refer to often, Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 “Lean In – Women, Work and The Will To Lead”. It is such an accessible and easy read and full of very practical advice and insights from her highly successful life, but that are helpful to those of us much further down the leadership line.

Lean In - Sheryl Sandberg's book.


I remembered she has some excellent advice on Mentoring. While this is normal part of my work, it is always helpful to step back now and again and reflect on what I am doing as a mentor and why I am doing it.

There was one part of her Chapter 5 on “Are You My Mentor?” that really got me thinking about my initial conversations with these 3 new mentees two of whom I’ve known for some time, the third was a referral from someone who knows me well.

Do You Want Your Mentor To Be Your Prince Charming?

Sandberg says that she realised, in the way women approached her to be a mentor and in the questions they asked her at Q and As following her presentations, that “searching for a mentor has become the equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming” for many women. They wait for him. He kisses them and he whisks them away on his white horse to live happily ever after.

She went on to say that women believe that “if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after”.

She says that approach is teaching women to be too dependent on others. “We need to stop telling them, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel’. Instead, we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor’ “.

So What Will My Mentoring Be With These Three Women?

  • I want them to discover their Why. That is what will set their direction and empower them to be everything they want to be, professionally and personally. It was Mark Twain who said: The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. This is no easy task and it took me a long time to find my Why which is “to inspire people to live an empowered and empowering life”. Having done so it now provides meaning and purpose to everything I do. I want this for my mentees.


  • I want them to be self-directive in everything they do, starting with how they work with me in the mentoring. I want them to lead the process in the direction of their Why.


  • I want to be the guide on the side, not the sage on their stage.


  • I want to walk their journey with them, sharing my experience and insights in the hope some may resonate and therefore mean they don’t have to re-invent the wheel at every turn. This process will accelerate their professional and personal success.


  • I want the mentoring to empower them significantly. Empowerment is about activating, enhancing, enabling the “power within” which women tend not to recognise and therefore do not draw on to move them on and up.


  • I want to create an empowering space where they can explore themselves and their potential confidently without fear or judgement.


  • I want to share with them my network of contacts and any opportunities that I see can offer them a chance to live their Why.


I do not want to be their Prince Charming on whom they can depend to take them on a ride to success. Nor do I want a hand-holding relationship with them. More importantly, I don’t want to be their therapist, all roles Sheryl Sandberg says women often want from their mentors.

© Maree Harris, Ph.D.


Leave a Comment