Since elementary school I developed the need to be independent with parents working opposite shifts and taking care of myself after school until my mom came home. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, it was difficult for my parents–through no fault of their own- to help navigate me through the American education and professional system. Their support for activities such as extracurriculars or community service was a challenge because they didn’t know how it would help in my education. Thus, I had to find it elsewhere. And I found it through American adults who knew the system and then became my mentors.
I have been lucky enough to have worked under the guidance of several key technology mentors who helped shape me into the person I am today. Their guidance and support opened doors for me to pursue opportunities beyond my dreams: becoming a world traveler, learning and experiencing new cultures, and working with brilliant minds across the globe to make an impact. Mentorship has been a big factor in my success, so much that I went on to create a nonprofit to help others benefit from their very own mentors. Thriving Elements was born in 2016 with the goal to replicate the quality mentoring I received and scale it to reach as many underserved, underrepresented girls as possible who are interested in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM). Since then we have matched dozens of mentor pairs and truly believe mentorship is key to a successful global future. Here are my takeaways of how to go about doing that from the mentor’s perspective.
Why mentorship is key
2020 was a tumultuous year for many. The world of video conferencing was normalized in education and in many industries. For some of our mentees having a mentor, even in a virtual capacity, has been valuable. For example, one of our mentees virtually follows her mentor around for a few hours regularly to experience a day in the life of a medical doctor.
Understand the power you have as a mentor
Mentors helped me go from living out of my car and serving fried chicken at KFC for more than seven years to leading the launch of various successful digital platforms across the globe. While my story seems like one of success, I didn’t get here alone. I had mentors. Getting to know a mentee on a personal level will help the mentor understand what their mentee needs help with and what drives them. Yet it is also important to listen to what they are not telling you. Mentorship is a two-way street. As a mentor, it’s important to remember you aren’t instructing your mentee, but rather encouraging and empowering them to achieve their goals. Teach them to think critically by posing thoughtful, open-ended questions. If you are their only support, it’s vital to instill in them the confidence they need to succeed.
Help mentees by sharing your challenges
Founding and running a global nonprofit next to having a full time job and writing a book hasn’t been easy. However, I’m transparent about my struggles and often ask for help. Oftentimes a mentor doesn’t know where to start in the relationship and the mentee assumes the mentor’s path has been smooth, or only sees the end result–success. As mentors, we should give the mentees the space to explore and fail. If they’re excited about an idea, provide them with guidance, even if you know it might not work. Herein lies the value. Great mentors share their thought process on the decisions they’ve made along their career paths–even the failures–and especially the lessons learned from them. Transparency and authenticity are crucial. As members of the human race, we will continue to fail and learn and scale and fail and learn and scale. As we strive to get more gender balance in STEM fields and beyond, we should continue to teach, mentor and guide the next generation.