Why more of us women need to be mentors

Every woman should be a mentor. Here’s why

Over the last few months, I have been on an almost circular, very-often-back-to-square-one journey trying to figure work out. It’s a long journey filled with regrets, frustration, helplessness, countless conversations that took me nowhere. Business conversations and therapy conversations and life coach conversations. Numerous people have spent so so much of their precious time in listening to me ramble on and on about Purple Pencil Project and why I was not able to take it further, how I wanted to do more than social media content in my work life and grow, how I was constantly being pulled in all directions for competing priorities. 

I am not the only one with a whirlwind of these questions that occupy most of my mind on so many of the days. But that was my active problem, and that was my struggle. Added to it were the emotional, mental, and domestic complexities of being a girl child in a middle class Indian household, that wants the best for you and loves you, but their version of what best means is so diametrically opposite, you spend half your energy in trying to find the middle ground, and a crazy amount of everyday bandwidth in arguing over the same issues you hoped would have been resolved.

“Why do girls need to have a thriving career? Just earn enough.”

“You should have become a <insert a new profession everyday>. You could then take care of the home also.” 

“Your degree was a waste..you are ruining your future…”

“I hope you don’t stay attached to your career after marriage…” 

One of the worst things about WFH has to be the constant domestic clashes that living for extended periods of time at home invariably brings and one in which the gender bias is stark and apparent. Sentences, taunts, remarks, on your body, your relationship status, your career, something you did when you were 8 years old, a reminder that you are old and alone. 

This is not new. This is not unique. And I have invariably spoken about these things to many people in my life; to some, they are complaints, to some, they relate. 

Can you guess the gender distribution for these two reactions?

I have to spoken about these in detail, to men (five of them) who are otherwise exceptionally brilliant to whom I owe a lifetime’s gratitude and debt for giving me their time, resources, and support along a rather windy, often lazy path to get where I want to. Their advice, their listening ear has helped me countless times. What I am about to say does not take away from a single thing they have contributed to my development as a person and a professional. 

But there is one thing they cannot solve for, and perhaps cannot help – really seeing your circumstance, and providing advice that empathises with it. 

Men tend to give advice in black and white – take it or leave it. 

Why can’t you leave home at so and so hour? I cannot: I am expected to help with lunch prep in a way my brother probably is not.

Why can’t you budget for the time you will be disturbed when you are working from home? I cannot say, “You know how it is. The house help comes at this hour. Whether I have a meeting or a project presentation, I would not get the privacy accorded to the male working members of my family.” These are excuses to men. Excuses to not work hard enough.

Why can’t you explain to them <insert progressive social argument>? Because they won’t listen, because I will spend half the day fighting about unrelated things. Because they are old and they won’t change.

Perhaps when I am old, I won’t either.

Talking to mentor-men-friends has been great; they have taught me about work ethic, and culture, and product scaling, and market capitalisation, and market research, and everything worldly and wise and practical and real.

But they can never make me, and probably women in general, feel seen. Never make me feel heard. My constraints are professional excuses, and as a woman professional, you are to displease, always displease at least one of these parties.

Perhaps that is the nature of mentorships between opposite genders, or from people who come from different circumstances and cannot fully grasp the reality of a lived experience. 

Women, not only mentors but peers and friends and colleagues, have always, almost intuitively led with “I know I feel you. But what if you could..”

I am self aware; so I explore this possibility. They are right. I am a lazy person who uses domesticity as a constraint.

But it is only a woman, or a person who shares not just your lived reality but the gendered history of women as a collective and the trauma we all carry within, who can make speak from a place of empathy and trust, making the room for you to accept yourself first, accept your circumstance, validate it first. The change that words coming from that space bring, is real. Honest. It does not feel like you are a disappointment, a machine that only knows how to complain and carry that negativity with you. It does not make you feel like you have no voice because the words you want to say will make little difference, and come across as defensive. 

And that is exactly why more, and all us women, have to step up – be the empathetic, supportive, communicative mentors and leaders that perhaps we might have missed out on. We cannot model our leadership to our predecessors, but to the mentors we wished we had, using the words we wished they told us. 

The world, as philosophers and scholars and artists tell you, is a reflection of who you are. You can operate from a place of ‘this is how it has happened, it’s one thing or the other.’ Or you can choose to think, ‘Yes, this has happened. But was it right and how much change is needed? What is needed to make that change happen?’. 

A leader’s priority might be to only create success. A mentor’s number one priority is to listen. To understand. To not dismiss truths because their framework of the world cannot acommodate it. And for better or worse, as far as mentoring women goes, it is a good chance that a woman can do a much better job than men at saying, “Yes. This is valid. But here’s how you should not let it hinder you. Let me show you the way.” 

Want to talk more about it? Tweet to me @pramankapranam or email me at prakrut[at]purplepencilproject[dot]com