Mothers as mentors: Many female managers are their kids' biggest professional role models

Most women in high-ranking positions in their organizations or industries likely did not have their own mothers to look up to as professional role models. However, an increasing number of women in senior roles today are acting as mentors to their daughters as they embark down their career paths, according to the Wall Street Journal. While these relationships can be mutually rewarding for both mother and daughter, they can be challenging and potentially straining.

Tension could arise between mothers and daughters engaged in maternal professional mentorships as young women seek independence and mothers try to find a balance between offering guidance and support and interfering too much.

For mothers, the biggest challenge is separating, "Am I here for you professionally, giving hard, cold advice and opening doors for you, or am I here for you because you just need a hug today?" Ilene Lang, former president and CEO of Catalyst, and New York nonprofit provider of research and advice on advancing women, told the Journal.

For example, in one mother-daughter mentor relationship described by the Journal, the mother used her own professional network to help her daughter connect with finance firms on Wall Street. The young woman thought a particular interview went well, but the company turned her down. When the mother asked her contact why her daughter didn't get the job, the contact said the young woman offered an incorrect answer to the question, "How do we make money?" The mother relayed this information to her daughter, saying, "It's a bummer you didn't get this, but you probably shouldn't have gotten it because you didn't know that answer."

The young woman told the Journal it hurt her feelings to hear her mother say that, but at the end of the day her mother's tough feedback was right. In the daughter's next interview for an analyst position at a New York investment bank, her mother told her she was "on her own." The young woman took a greater initiative to do more comprehensive research, soliciting the advice of a family friend, an economics professor. In the end, she got the job.

According to Ms. Lang, mentor relationships should be driven by the younger person to ensure the relationship is focused on advancing the goals and agenda of that individual. While mothers will likely feel rewarded and a sense of pride in their daughter's interest in their guidance, it is important to ensure mothers are not directing them toward any particular career path. Rather, the mother's main responsibility is to help them achieve their own career goals.

In another mother-daughter mentorship relationship cited by the Journal, a 35-year-old woman said she frequently discusses her work with her mother, who she considers a mentor. While she often calls her mom seeking advice, the daughter appreciates that her mother never tells her what to do. Instead, she says, "If I were in this situation, I might do this," a tactic the daughter finds valuable.

Because of their close relationships, parents are often best positioned to answer young adults' questions about career planning and the specifics of corporate culture and office politics, compared with a colleague, according to the report. According to a 2010 Catalyst study of 742 managers and executives, women are more likely than men to serve as mentors to anyone — male or female.

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