It is human nature to seek out people who are like-minded with similar backgrounds, experiences and values, and it’s easier to mentor and be mentored by someone whose style is more like our own.
Certainly all women are not alike, but with three generations of women firmly established in policing, women mentoring other women should be a given. Unfortunately we’re seeing a frustrating trend — the failure of women in leadership positions to support the younger females in their organizations — which is absolutely unacceptable.
What can we do to help each other become successful? Let’s talk about mentorship.
If You’re Seeking a Mentor:
1.) Start out by observing a potential mentor at work. How do they interact with their peers, their subordinates, the administrative staff, the public? Are they a role model, the kind of person you admire and may want to emulate? Are they ethical? Are they “successful” in your eyes? Do they live the kind of professional life you’re pursuing for yourself?
Be realistic, but also keep your standards high.
2.) Don’t get hung up on rank. Stars, bars or stripes don’t make someone a great mentor. Instead look for true leadership skills, which may be formal or informal within your organization, In fact, depending on your goals you may want to look outside of law enforcement.
One of the best things I did as a young detective was join several women’s business associations in my community. Many of these women served as my female role models, mentors and sounding-boards at a time when I had no one in law enforcement to reach out to, and their advice became invaluable when I moved from the public to the private sector.
3.) Figure out how available you need them to be. This is something for you to really consider before approaching a potential mentor. Are you looking for daily interaction or a monthly check-in? Sometimes weekly emails are a good way to establish a mentor/mentee relationship.
Your relationship doesn’t have to be extremely formal, but you should be upfront about what you’re looking for as far as communication and interaction.
4.) Keep your relationship professional... at least in the beginning. Women tend to share personal information rather quickly with each other, but keep your personal issues to yourself until your professional relationship with your mentor is solid. If you become too friendly too soon, you may hesitate to be honest with each other when it comes to feedback, especially criticism.
5.) Don’t lose sight of “hard skills.” When it comes to mentor/mentee relationships we often focus on “soft skills” like communication or administration, but if your potential mentor is a policy wiz but hasn’t been to the range in a year, think again.
Or better yet, invite her to go to the range with you. Never let the pursuit of a leadership position interfere with your officer safety skills.
If You’re Looking to Be a Mentor:
6.) Consider what you have to offer a potential mentee. If you find yourself feeling burned out and cynical it’s probably not a good time to take on a mentorship. Although, being in the company of young, enthusiastic crime-fighters may help you remember what you loved about law enforcement in the first place.
7.) Support women’s’ training. I was talking to several male police managers recently at a law enforcement leadership conference about a “women only” defensive tactics class they put on for female police officers in their area. They were frustrated that most of the push-back came from the female police managers.
These senior women were of the attitude that “female-only classes make us look weak and separate us from the men.”
In reality, these classes were enormously popular with the rank and file and helped the women improve their ground fighting skills in a “socially safe” environment. Additional training is never a bad thing in this profession, and the science of gender difference is a fact that cannot and should not be ignored.
8.) “Mentoring” doesn’t mean “controlling.” I’ve met many female leaders who become frustrated with mentees who “don’t listen.” Your job as a mentor is to model behavior, make suggestions and try to influence.
The person you’re mentoring may or may not take your advice; that’s the risk you take by getting involved. Don’t give up. The advice you give today that seems ignored may become your mentee’s mantra five or ten years down the road. Never underestimate your long term influence on someone. See yourself as a “teacher” as well as a mentor.
9.) Reach out to potential mentees. Don’t wait to be asked. Consider what you have to offer and put it out there. As the old saying goes, “you should always be training your replacement.” And don’t forget that a mentoring relationship should be reciprocal. Both the mentee and the mentor should benefit. Provide each other with honest feedback.
There is a lot of talk about “mentorship” in law enforcement, but when it comes to women mentoring other women in this male-dominated profession, we are certainly not where we should be.
Mentoring programs can be formal or informal depending on your organization as well as your own job responsibilities. Consider starting a county-wide mentoring program with other police agencies, or reach out to other public safety organizations such a fire, communications and emergency services.
The goal is to support each other and improve this profession for everyone.