Who’s got your back, nena?

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By Monica Castañeda

monica-castanedaMy perspective on women and mentoring has evolved through the years. The truth is that we know mentoring is effective. According to the American Society of Training and Development, 75 percent of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers; and 44 percent of CEOs list mentoring programs as one of the three most effective strategies to enhance women’s advancement into senior management.

We also know now that mentoring and/or coaching has become quite popular, and the importance of using mentors throughout your career is finally getting the attention of many women. As a mentee, we can learn from the vast experience of our mentors. Mentors can also help us develop our career management plans. One suggestion is to identify a mentor who is at least two levels above you in your organization and to specifically define the goals of the relationship. Another benefit of having a mentor is that mentors help us improve our accountability and responsibility. As our relationship grows with our mentor, we begin to see the results of our work and our heightened level of confidence will encourage us to strive for achievements we had previously thought were impossible.

A favorite piece of advice that I received was when a colleague, mentor and amiga, Marisel, said, “whenever in need, go to your board of directors, nena!” I say m’ija; she says nena. You know, all the women/men who support your goals and dreams. None of us can say we’ve had just one mentor. Whether we acknowledge them or not, there have been many individuals who have contributed to our growth. At one point, I may have never acknowledged my mom as a mentor because she wasn’t a “career woman.” It wasn’t until later that I realized that she was the mentor that taught me nurturing and was my model for kindness towards others.  

We all have the mentor that expects 120 percent from us, and, though we may at times avoid them, we know that their challenges maximize our potential. Then there’s the mentor that serves as a reflection of the truth. This mentor tells us what we need to improve upon and holds us accountable to ourselves. I recall one mentor in particular who taught me a valuable lesson about leading others. She said, “the work is not important, only the people.” This bit of wisdom has been invaluable. We all have had experiences working with some great leaders and some not-so-great. My intent has always been to emulate those leaders who inspired me to follow, and she was one of them. This mentor genuinely made us feel that we, as individuals, were important to her.

As mothers, wives, partners, sisters and employees, we all need many mentors. Some contribute to the development of our career; some remind us to go to Mass or pray, be grateful or spiritual; the fit ones say eat right and exercise; others say spend more time with your son … he’ll grow up so quick! If we all take a minute to look around, we begin to acknowledge the talents and gifts of those around us. We soon realize that we can learn from them and, from my perspective, this makes them my mentor.  

We need to reach forward and also reach back. There are so many young women who can learn from our experiences, not only as women, but as Latinas. Mentoring helps youth stay in school, provides companionship, guidance and helps youth build their self-esteem. There are so many opportunities for us to contribute to a young person’s life. If you’re already a mentor, encourage those around you to mentor as well, and, if you’re not a mentor, then consider seeking opportunities to serve on someone’s “board of directors.” 

Monica Castañeda is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Glendale Community College. She’s a native of El Paso, Texas, and has resided in the Valley since 1985. She holds a B.A. from Arizona State University and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. She’s passionate about serving students and strongly believes in the empowerment that higher education provides.

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