Your single source for new lessons on legal technology, e-discovery, and the people innovating behind the scenes.

Building Your Bench and Owning Your Career: Insights from Women in Tech

Andie Linker

Guidance. Support. Growth. Leader. Helper. Coach. 

These words that started popping up on the Zoom screen as over 100 people from inside and outside Relativity joined our Women’s History Month panel: Building Your Bench & Owning Your Career. The event was hosted by Relativity Women of the Workplace, also known as RelWoW, our community resource group aimed at inspiring women, engaging allies, and providing thought leadership to guide gender equality and support our entire community.

The panel, which was moderated by Relativity Chief Legal Officer Karen Klein, focused on giving women tactical advice on how we can build mentorship opportunities to help grow our careers. We heard advice from Relativity’s director of customer content, Emily Messer; CEO Molly Beck; Chicago Innovation’s manager of mentoring and inclusion programs, Molly Matthias; and Products by Women Founder Naimeesha Murphy. Each of these women have had unique experiences with mentorship to share with the group. 

The panelists also shared a bit of their own career and mentorship journeys, then spoke with Karen about the ins and outs of mentorship, leaving a bit of time for audience Q&A at the end. Here are some of the key takeaways from the event.

How to Leverage Mentorship to its Fullest

Mentorship is a two-way street, and you get out of it what you put into it. The panelists shared their best advice on how to be well prepared for your mentor session. 

Molly M. shared about her first mentorship experience, citing how excited she was to get to leverage the expertise of a woman she really looked up to. However, what Molly didn’t realize was that she needed to set clear goals and come to each meeting with her mentor prepared for a productive discussion. 

How do you make sure you’re prepared? Understand exactly what question you’d like to find an answer to with your mentor; then, create clear, time-stamped goals and work with your mentor on how you’ll achieve those goals together. Take strong notes during your meeting and practice active listening. At the end of each session, make sure you have your next session and topic scheduled. 

When to Use a Mentor… And When Not To 

Before diving in to any mentorship session, Molly B. asks herself: “Is this Googleable?”

Sometimes, you need how-to lessons on completing key career tasks. But other times, you need strong advice on your path forward from someone how knows you personally. The latter is the perfect place for mentorship, the former is the perfect place for Google. 

Put simply: Make sure you are respectful of your mentor’s time by digging into their unique experiences and how you can learn from them, rather than simply asking for basic advice.

Recognizing the New Face of Mentorship 

The panelists also discussed some ways we can shift the ways we think about mentorship. Traditionally, mentorship features someone who is very experienced in a field sharing tips and tricks with someone with less experience. However, the panelists encouraged everyone to think about mentorship in new ways. 

Naimeesha’s work has an emphasis on skills-based mentorship, where knowledge is exchanged on a peer-to-peer basis. This makes mentorship much more accessible and can help organizations excel cross-functionally by connecting colleagues who can help each other grow based on their unique strengths and areas of opportunity.  

Naimeesha also cited how much she has learned from being a mentor, not just a mentee. There is so much we can learn from one another, and knowledge doesn’t have to just be shared one way. 

On the other side of that, Emily shared that she has not only learned what to do, but what not to do, by observing some of her mentors. She shared about an experience in which she shadowed a people manager whose tactics rubbed her the wrong way, which made her realize that she wanted to be a people manager so she could do things differently.

Although you’re seeking positive and pleasant relationships, not all the helpful advice you get from your mentor needs to be positive. 

Considerations for Finding Unconventional Mentorship

There is no single person in this world who can help you work through every challenge you face, which is why all the panelists suggested looking for all sorts of different mentors. After all, career growth is all about building your bench of cheerleaders, not just finding one teacher. 

The word “mentor” can come with a lot of weight associated with it. Rather than diving into formal mentorship opportunities, Molly B. suggested reaching far and wide within your network to find people you connect with. Nurturing consistent relationships with your network will naturally lead to mentorship, and you don’t need to force it with labels. 

There are also tons of opportunities for formal mentors to help you find community in the things that interest you, which will ultimately lead to less formal but still very valuable coaching. 

An Important Reminder about Owning Your Career 

Finding a mentor is just the first step to taking your career into your own hands and finding new opportunities. 

Emily emphasized the importance of taking a proactive approach to your career, instead of passively waiting for things to happen. Always make sure you have a good grasp on where you want to go and how you want to get there. 

The most important part of all? According to Molly M., it is trusting yourself. Label yourself as an expert in the things you are good at and own that expertise. Continue to build on the foundation of your expertise as you grow. 

And on that note, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the day, from Molly Beck: “Your career comes and goes but your expertise is always with you.”

Nominate an Awesome Colleague for a 2021 Innovation Award

Andie Linker is a member of the product marketing team at Relativity.