I Need a Shero

Now that you have that classic song in your head…

This last week I attend a conference for higher education leaders in student affairs called ACPA.  I wrote about this last week in ACPA vs NASPA, as this was my first conference for this association being a long dedicated NASPA member.

I was presently surprised in the conference, especially the thought provoking sessions.  A two-part session I attended was called Secrets of Success Institute: Women Leaders on their own terms.  These sessions included powerhouse female leaders within student affairs, so of course the room was filled up.

The session description for this institute was:

“The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it” Berends (1990). The presenters will share stories about their career paths and advice from their journeys. These senior women bring extensive higher education leadership, scholarship and service experience and will highlight lessons learned. They will share stories about the intersections of family and work, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, and how they have negotiated these complex, diverse environments during their careers.

At the front of the room sat five women in various roles and campuses across the US.  What followed in the next two hours was sage advice offered by and for woman  in order to craft your career on your own terms.

There was a number of lessons learned that were shared.  A couple statements that I made note of, about becoming a better leader:

“Lead authentically, head, heart and spirit.  Do not waiver.” -Bridget T. Kelly, Loyola University Chicago

“Be fiercely yourself!” -Stacey Pearson, University of Central Florida

The topic that resonated the most with me was around mentoring.  Since grad school I have heard countless times the high importance of finding mentors that will help cultivate your career.  Let me preface: I do intentionally seek out mentors and luckily have a number of strong mentors that significantly support me today.  Dr. Kelly offered the following advice

Get three types of mentors: Inspirational (you may not actually meet but highly respect), situational (based on current need/issue) and relational (ongoing meetings).

The other panelist went on to discuss the magic of mentoring, but in the back of my mind I started to struggle.  I’m not trying to write a post ‘oh poor me,’ but finding and keeping mentors is difficult especially women leader.  I felt relieved when the Q & A time arrived and another attendee spoke up

“We need to address the elephant in the room.  Women supporting women is extremely importantly, but more than not we do not mentor each other.”

In this statement, I did not feel alone in struggling to find and keep female mentors.  While the concept of mentorship is continually thrown around in all career paths, there are dark realities behind it.

These include not having access to female senior leaders, their willingness and perceived value of mentoring, and the idea of the superwoman syndrome that prevents relationships to even develop.

The new Senior Vice President at Virginia Tech, Patty Perillo later addressed this superwoman syndrome, of which women need to be very careful of.  Many women whom have reached senior leadership positions have had to work extremely hard to get (and stay) there.  Stories vary from choosing not to have a family, moving countless times across the country for the next position, broken marital relationships and complete burnout caused by career advancement.

Applying the idea of the superwoman syndrome to mentoring, it is no wonder why many senior leaders in higher ed do not open themselves up to becoming mentors.  The attempts to be super at everything they do, everyday.

So I don’t blame them.  At many institutions they may be the only woman at that level and feel the pressure continually prove themselves, while attempting to hold on to their identity as a woman.

Not to appear critical, but I have no interest in having a mentor that falls under a superwoman cateogry.  Sure I have a unique affinity for superman, most marvel comic movies and Wonder Woman.  But I do not to aspire to become the kind of female leader drove to her breaking point.

I seek out women that Dr. Bridget Kelly described as Rock-Star Sheros.

Sheros are all around us.  A hero is looked up to for their achievements, values and character qualities.  Based upon this description, a Shero can fall under all categories Dr. Kelly discussed: inspirational, situational and relational.  It also gives us permission to look carefully at our mentors (man or woman) and ensure they display the qualities you as a mentee expect in a leader.

Taking ownership in the mentoring process is important for both mentors and mentees.  Other than LinkedIn, I do not know of a matchmaking mentor website (at least in higher ed) that makes the process any easier.  If you struggle to develop mentors at your job, then it is time to explore what external resources in your city, state and/or career field are available.

If I could, I would attend conferences for a living and this is where I have developed most of my mentor shero (and hero) team.  I like to consider them my entourage.

Are you are Shero or a Superwoman?  Can you be both?

Do you consider yourself a mentor?

Is anyone else out there trying to find some Rock-Star Sheros?

2 Responses to I Need a Shero

  1. Danielle McLemore March 8, 2013 at 4:54 am #

    I’d like to think I am maybe a Shero to some of my friends. With my background growing up, it has taught me to be more open minded and understanding. And my friends, even strangers, tend to pick up or sense this need to tell me everything. I guess what makes me a Shero is my ability to comfort and to give good advise. Does that count for anything?

    My mom is my realistic Shero because she has always been there for me and has always been so easy to talk to, that I think it would be impossible to not feel comfortable around her!

    My other Shero was always Gwen Stefani. I’ve been a fan of her since I was in middle school and whenever I listened to her music, it would cheer me up. Plus people say I look like her LOL!!


  1. Two Attempts to ‘Lean In’ « The Art of Doing - May 15, 2013

    […] much better at supporting each other.  I had written about my own attempts for mentorship, called I Need a Shero.  In my attempts to forge some female mentors, I have experienced leaders who are too busy, not […]

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