How a man can help you blast the glass ceiling

Scarlett Sieber is a One Young World Ambassador from the USA. Scarlett is the VP of operations at Infomous This article was originally published by Forbes.

When starting out a job many people people are told about the importance of finding a mentor to push their career forward. In fields where women are underrepresented, like science, technology, engineering, venture capital etc., having a mentor is crucial. Is it really as important for a young woman to have a female mentor, as some people believe? I propose, as said by other people in Forbes, that it is most important to build a team of people who will help various facets of your career—and some of these are as likely to be men as women.

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I used to think it was important to have a female mentor. I became obsessed with finding the woman who was the perfect match for me. I looked around but found it was very difficult, though I had a couple women who were extremely helpful. This process was not as easy as I had anticipated but I learned one valuable lesson; looking for a mentor is probably not the right way to go about it. Just because someone is high profile and has great achievements does not mean they would bring value to me as a mentor—or that I was the right person for them to mentor. I found it best to take a more casual approach and be open to opportunities to establish a relationship.

My first “opportunity” happened naturally where the founder of my company, Paolo Gaudiano, became my first mentor. Paolo challenged me, he put me in advanced settings in the room with potential clients who were executives at large publishing companies and would have me introduce our company at exhibits/conferences (even though he was more qualified to do so). I came into Infomous knowing I was smart and capable, but having your talent recognized and tested is the best thing for an eager, young employee. I wanted to do more, better, and took the initiative to not only work my hardest at the office but also take on extra reading at home.

Paolo was (and still is) a great mentor but his time is limited and I found myself looking for other mentors as well. I read an article in Inc. about female entrepreneurs’ path to success where the women were quoted as saying they didn’t get to where they were by relying on other women for support or advice, but that men played an important role in their achievements. This made me realize that although I had some support from one or two outstanding women, I had some really great men around me who were already “mentoring” me. I thought about what I wanted in a mentor, I wanted someone who taught me new things, helped me grow, and promoted me along the way (by promoting, I mean furthering my progress, getting my name out). I thought about all the men in my life who were doing those things and collectively, these men were all the mentors I needed. They are not mentors in the traditional sense (only one of them has a direct impact on my career), but being an athlete I go back to a sports analogy, namely, these men are like a group of coaches for me. These coaches all have specific objectives with the same common goal, to win the game (my success). Many of these men did not know they were my coach until I asked them if I could include their name in this piece. At no time throughout our relationship did I ask them to be my coach—they just are.

I have my head coach, Paolo, who helps me grow on a daily basis, increasing my responsibility and putting new obstacles in front of me to see how I will solve them. I have my venture capitalist coach, Phil Sanderson, who is always available to answer questions I have about the investment world, offering fascinating statistics, and is the first person to share anything I write to his network. I have my angel investor coach, Adam Quinton, who expands my knowledge by sending me articles that raise my awareness of important issues (including some articles for this piece) as well as answering my early stage investment questions. I have my entrepreneur coach, David Koretz, who has taught me many things about the later stages of a company and the process of a successful exit. I have my social media coach, Evan Blass, who teaches me everything about social media tactics, including how to create a following as well as general writing tips and advice for my articles.

The thing that I like most about this group of men (and a handful more, some who did not want to be mentioned) is that when we speak, they don’t sit there and tell me how wonderful I am. They give credit where credit is due, but more importantly, they challenge me, they make me want to be better. They give me constructive criticism, push me to think outside the box, and share their insights. In sum, these men offer me more than I could ever get from a single mentor. I cannot begin to calculate how much of who I am professionally is owed to all the men in my life—men in high profile positions who had nothing to gain, who went out of their way to elevate my talents.

I encourage women to look around them for mentors (not only in their own organization) with skills in areas that need improvement. I encourage them to think differently about what a mentor is. Breaking the glass ceiling is hard. Changing the perception of women in STEM is hard. Raising the voice for women everywhere is hard. The more we push for these things and find creative ways (like coaches) to achieve it, the sooner these barriers will be broken. As coach Phil Jackson once said, “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.”

Who are the amazing coaches and mentors in your life that helped with your career?