Millennial Women and Mentors: One Young Woman’s Response to “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg”

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Millennial Women and Mentors: One Young Woman’s Response to “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg”

by Carmille Lim
Development & Advocacy Manager, YWCA of O‘ahu

Carmille Lim

The recent Forbes article “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg: Millennial Women Reject Role Models, Mentorsby J. Maureen Henderson misrepresents the perception I feel my fellow millennial women professionals have – we are not rejecting mentors; we are just processing “mentorship” in a different way.

“Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg” acknowledges that both parties have different career goals: the mentor is typically an older female leader who has climbed the corporate ladder and would like to groom someone to follow in her footsteps. Young women in mentee positions are not aspiring to climb the corporate ladder in as high numbers as their mentors. Instead, more young women are seeking a career path that allows them to be innovative and creative, and that’s personally fulfilling. 

That said, what this article actually identifies, but does not further explore, are the unaligned expectations from both parties. “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg” looks at mentoring with a traditional lens: the mentor expects to have a protégé – someone to perpetuate current best practices in existing business settings of long-standing corporations. On the other hand, young women professionals are not seeking to replicate an individual or perpetuate an organizational entity as it stands. Instead, the type of mentoring they are seeking are opportunities to learn tools, tips and best practices, so that they can combine this knowledge with their own strengths and industries, in order create new businesses, improve upon ideas or reinvent existing business models.

I feel that while young women today are able to recognize the valuable business and political maneuvering tactics they are taught, they are also able to recognize that their professional growth is taking place in a different work setting than what existed ten, 20 or even 30 years ago. While issues like workplace harassment and (un)equal pay still exist, millennial women entering the work force now face new socio-economic and political settings: prolonged economic depression coupled with higher tuition, student loan interest rates and housing costs; innovative technology and new communications channels; community-focused business practices and initiatives; and current popularity of “social good.” Among my peers, pursuing “social good” careers involving social enterprise, corporate social responsibility and “giving back” is applauded whereas pursuing a “traditional” career in something lucrative but destructive (such as working for an oil company) is generally frowned upon.

Further, young women now live and work in a time when mainstream media, industry journals and blogs encourage the fostering of entrepreneurial spirit and pursuit of happiness and fulfillment instead of highlighting the benefits of climbing the corporate ladder and the massive paychecks that accompany these executive-level positions. So, instead of seeing more women seek mentorship to become CEOs of large corporations, some young women seek mentorship so that they are able to start their own small business.

While young women may not want to be a duplicate of an accomplished female leader and follow the same career aspirations, young women do appreciate the idea of learning best practices from older women leaders. They may just apply that knowledge differently than their mentor expected.

I would hope that as we young women are being mentored, we are not blindly accepting everything we are taught. I would encourage young women professionals to reflect upon and identify what your own strengths, leadership style and beliefs are in comparison with our mentors. Knowing this first sets the foundation to how we accept mentoring and also shapes what kind of career leader we will be in the future – whether it’s for a large corporation, our own business or a position in government.

As the development & advocacy manager for the YWCA of O‘ahu, Carmille Lim, 25, is tasked with fundraising for its three locations, and developing the association’s new public policy and advocacy platform. Serving on the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women, Carmille is the youngest gubernatorial appointee; she has also been recently selected as one of Pacific Business News’ “2012 Forty Under 40,” which recognizes the state’s brightest young business professionals. For balance in her life, Carmille studies ballet and taekwondo.

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16 responses to “Millennial Women and Mentors: One Young Woman’s Response to “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg”

  1. I am in complete agreement with Carmille on Forbes’ “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg” article. When I first began reading the article, I was perplexed by the negative tone of the article. For one, I think the fact that 84% of respondents could find at least female leader within their job field should be celebrated. While there is much progress that needs to happen for female leadership within many work sectors, the identification of female leaders is an indication of how much has been achieved by women in the past few decades. The fact that there are identifiable female role models for Millennial Women needs to be celebrated.

    Furthermore, the fact that Generation Y doesn’t want to follow the career path of their role models shouldn’t be seen as a rejection, but instead of sign of progress. Our role models had to push and fight to get to the top and become leaders for future women and their mark on the world has been made. Generation Y has seen their success and the difference these women have made and are looking to bring about positive change for their own generation. As the article mentions, 84% of Millennial Women find making a difference in the world is more important than professional recognition; essentially, these women are following in the steps of their mentors, but don’t have their sights set on the top rung of the ladder.

    Instead of the negative tone presented in “Shut Up, Sheryl Sandberg,” readers and Millennial Women need to focus on the forgotten positives: that we have role models to give us advice for our careers (though we do not have to follow in their footsteps) and we also have the ability to make a difference for future generations.

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