By Menty Kebede
Throughout life, I have often found myself faced with difficult, and consequential, decisions. At the age of 15 at a private French school, I was expected to choose an area of academic specialization. When I turned 17, I was facing the choice of attending college in France like most of my peers, or coming to the United States. Decisions like these continued to surface throughout college as I debated what classes to take, what internships to apply for, and later in life, what career path to pursue. I struggled to find the kind of guidance I needed in making these highly consequential life choices. I had been blessed with incredible friends, loving parents, and peers who supported my successes – but what I lacked was someone I could rely on regularly to offer professionally relevant perspective. I wasn’t alone in these struggles – nearly 60% of educators see their students struggling with motivation, support or confidence in planning for college and beyond. What I know now is that I needed mentorship.
Finding a mentor can be fairly challenging. I realized quickly that there are very few designated mentor-finding spaces, and was unsure where to look. I eventually understood that I was not looking for someone who already held my dream job, who would help me to follow their path and ultimately become them. What I needed instead was someone that could help me tackle some of the more short term life choices and challenges as they came along. Ultimately, I found mentors in places where I least expected them- and two people in particular, both women, come to mind as having played major roles in helping to shape the kind of professional I have become.
Infographic taken from Smart Business Online.
One of my mentors was a woman who supervised me at the Center for Women and Community, where I worked my sophomore through senior years in college. The other is the woman I currently work for, who is actively one of my role models. These women have challenged me to rethink my preconceived notions about happiness, success and what it means to be strong. They made it okay for me to be vulnerable and honest despite being in a professional setting. In them, I found mentorship that empowered me to embrace and celebrate my accomplishments unapologetically, to challenge oppressive structures or male-dominated environments, and create space for myself to thrive. I, along with 67% of women-at-large, rate mentorship as a highly important contributor in terms of advancing our careers.
My advice for any young woman looking for mentorship would be to be open-minded in pursuing your mentors. Mentorship might come in the form of a person that you were not expecting, and the person you have your sights set on to mentor you might not be able to make the time or invest the energy that you deserve. Mentorship might also happen in shorter term bouts, or result in lifelong relationships. Your mentors won’t all fit a certain mold – as a former RA, and an internship supervisor, I have found myself with mentees that I help however I can. With some intentionality, you can and will find people who care about your growth and are willing to lend a hand. It’s especially important for us women, as we can actually reap more social capital from mentoring insight than males, according to a study from UC Berkeley. Just keep your eyes open.
Menty Kebede is currently the Policy and Advocacy Manager for the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service based in Washington, DC. In this role, she advocates for legislation that guarantees social and legal protections for refugees and immigrants, such as DACA recipients and TPS holders. Menty, who speaks five languages, is passionate about social justice and humanitarian affairs on both the domestic and international spheres. Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she received a BA in Legal Studies, a BA in Political Science, and a minor in Arabic at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2016.