For many young women entering their professional careers, mentorship is an essential
experience. Nevertheless, the ins-and-outs of mentor/mentee relationships often seem a mystery. How does one approach a mentor? What do mentor/mentee conversations look like? For advocate, lawyer and Democracy Forward CEO Skye Perryman, mentorship and leadership go hand-in-hand.
“[As leaders] we can support others and our communities,” observed Perryman in an interview
with The Women’s Network-GW. “Leadership is an activity, it’s not a role.”
Perryman, who mentors students and lawyers in addition to her work in litigation and advocacy,
highlighted three key ways for mentors and mentees to think about mentorship.
1. Mentorship as observation
While a formal mentor/mentee relationship can be rewarding, it’s important to keep in mind
there are other ways of learning from your superiors. Namely, observation.
“I might even consider mentors…[people] who I had the opportunity to observe how they
worked,” said Perryman about her own experiences. “How they engaged in certain situations,
how they handled certain situations.”
Perryman noted, too, how mentorship can be mistaken simply as a situation in which a higher-
level professional offers praise to a junior-level professional. Simply collaborating alongside
those whose work you admire, and paying attention to how they work, can be a form of receiving
mentorship. Instead of seeking affirmations about your work, maintain a mindset of learning
from the feedback of your superiors and coworkers.
“I tried to actively take in what they were doing and see how I could learn from it,” said
2. Mentorship and knowing your value
Seeking more formal advice, of course, is still hugely impactful. Yet doing so can feel daunting,
especially to those who have never engaged in a mentorship before. Oftentimes the prospect of
developing a mentor/mentee relationship can leave a person feeling insecure.
“You are someone who wants to do something in the world and who wants to put your talents
and abilities to a greater purpose,” said Perryman. “So who wouldn’t want to mentor you?”
Perryman pointed out how leadership is a team activity, one which requires the contribution of
various individuals moving toward a common goal. While leaders provide support for the team,
their work would not be possible without the contributions and objectives of all members. By
reminding yourself of your own goals and skills when approaching someone you would like to
learn from, you can remember your value as a professional.
“[Embrace] that type of a mindset that you’re seeking mentorship not just for yourself but for
your greater purpose,” said Perryman.
3. Mentorship as an exchange
While most often we think of mentorship as an upper-level professional mentoring someone
younger than them, in reality that mentorship does not have to be a one-way exchange. Those in
upper-level positions can and should learn from those in junior experience levels.
“I have a kind of a cabinet of wonderful people who are younger than me who I look up to and
who advise me as I’m working,” Perryman shared about how she implements mentorship into
her own work life.
Mentorship is not something that dwindles as you move up in your career. Recognizing this is
not only important for those in upper positions, but can also be helpful for those at junior levels
who feel insecure about seeking mentorship. Learning is a lifelong process, not a stagnant
experience for young professionals to overcome.
By understanding the various ways one can approach mentorship, one can begin to understand
how to best learn from mentors. Rather than feeling insecure about seeking advice, remember the value of your own abilities and that even those in upper-level positions learn from their
coworkers everyday. Mentorship, like leadership, is a team effort.
“The reason we need leadership is because one person can’t go it alone,” said Perryman.