2014 Women Of The Channel: The Value Of A Good Mentor?

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As female executives expand their sphere of influence throughout the channel, many are finding that the connections they make with their peers are helping to drive their success. And who better to speak to the need for these connections than this year's Women of the Channel executives? Out of the 340 female executives on our Women of the Channel list this year, 211 said their company has some sort of mentoring program or hosts events specifically geared toward women.

Mentoring programs can be broken down into two categories: formal and informal. Formal mentoring programs are structured, with functions such as organized matching of mentors and those being mentored, seminars, training sessions, events and more. Informal mentoring, on the other hand, is much simpler as relationships are formed more casually and develop without an explicit structure. It can be just as simple as approaching someone you admire or has a quality you wish to emulate.

The biggest difference between the two, said Nicole Enright, vice president of marketing and strategy acceleration at Avnet Technology Solutions, Phoenix, is simply that formal mentoring has detailed goals and procedures to achieve them.

[Related: Empowering Women In The Channel]

Alison Challman, vice president, HP marketing and brand strategy at Avnet Technology Solutions, spoke to the success of the informal approach. For example, she said a woman in her organization approached her because she wanted to improve communication with her superiors and felt that Challman had that quality. Challman was able to work with her, acting as a sounding board for ideas and coaching messages until the woman felt comfortable communicating and even received some positive feedback from an executive.

"It's great for me because I'm seeing her improve and great for her in seeing a difference in communicating with the customer," Challman said. "I think there's a lesson in that for people who are mentors you need to be approachable."

In the end, it doesn't matter as much where the relationship starts as what it eventually develops into. Barbara Beckner, vice president of federal programs at Denver-based Global Technology Resources Inc. (GTRI), said any mentoring relationship should be a selfless one.

"It's probably the simple things. Listen. Don't judge. Try to be open-minded with any issues they are coming to you about...to make them feel comfortable and safe. Just share your experience as much as possible in an open manner," Beckner said.

No matter which approach is taken, the Women of the Channel executives interviewed by CRN all agreed that mentoring, in some form, is how women in the IT industry will advance their careers.

"I absolutely think it is crucial. Because of the evolving businesses that do business now, it is crucial to have these because everyone at some point in time, no matter how seasoned an individual or when they move to another company, having that mentor to help them wade through this new ocean is important," said Lana Akamine, program manager, global partner enablement at Red Hat, Raleigh, N.C..

The Women of the Channel executives all also agreed that while mentoring is obviously helpful for the one being mentored, it is also very rewarding for those doing the mentoring.

"We all spend so many hours working in the day, it's the richness of the relationships we build that are the most satisfying part of it," said Caroline Hinton, vice president of strategic partnerships, software, at Insight, Tempe, Ariz. "When I really look at mentoring, it's not just about career, it's about life. Whatever challenges come up in work, there's a big chance it's coming up in other areas of life. It brings holistic value to my life," she said.

Also, for the company itself, mentoring provides a view into the next generation of leadership.

Avnet's Challman said she "gets a lot out of being a mentor" for herself but it also gives her a chance to see some of the up-and-coming talent within the organization. Hinton agreed, saying that building lasting relationships provides consistency across her career and adds a "whole other element to the role" by connecting with people she admires.

NEXT: Devloping A Formal Mentoring Practice

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