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Reverse Mentors: How Women Can Help Each Other

Finding a match to boost careers of older and younger workers


Mentoring is the buzzy concept in the workworld these days. And for women over 50, the latest twist is reverse mentoring, or partnering with someone younger than you (especially a younger woman) so each of you learn from the other.
 
For the last five years, I’ve been in a few reverse-mentoring relationships. One is with a friend who’s two decades younger, far hipper and more attuned to navigating social media. Since I’m not that tech savvy, it’s nice to have someone I can call or email with a quick question who doesn’t think I’m a bonehead. And on the flipside, as an author and longtime journalist, I’ve helped market her book, made networking introductions and written recommendations.
 
But many older women find it hard to connect with younger women who they feel comfortable asking for help and who’d also like to be mentored.

(MORE: Why You Need a 'Reverse Mentor' at Work)
 

To get advice on the subject, I turned to Shelley Zalis, 52, CEO of the Los-Angeles based market-research firm Ipsos OTX and, more importantly, creator of the Ipsos Girls' Lounge.

 
Zalis, a self-described “Uber-connector,” invented the Ipso Girls’ Lounge so women could have a place to escape to at business conferences and network with other women, potentially making contacts that might turn into mentors. Her concept: instead of schmoozing in a hotel suite at the conference, you’d belly up to the Beauty Bar for, say, a manicure or you’d get a professional head shot taken, while bonding with other women there. (The Ipsos Girls’ Lounge will be at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., Jan. 6 to 9, 2015.)

Highlights from our interview:
 
Next Avenue: Why should women in their 40s, 50s or 60s be reciprocal mentors with younger women?
 
Zalis: At its root, mentorship is about pairing and sharing. Experienced women can learn so much from younger women raised in the digital era.
 
Millennials have this contagious energy and entrepreneurial attitude that’s a great addition to any workplace. Their drive and that passion to achieve success can be a great motivator. And as the more experienced generation we should give back what we wish we always could have had.
 
How should a boomer woman find a younger mentor match?
 
The best way to find your mentor is not to look for one. You will know when you’ve met your match when you do. It will be that person that shares with open arms and tons of passion their knowledge, experience, mistakes and successes and encourages you to be the best you can be.

(MORE: Why Women Need to Be Mentors or Find Them)
 
And then what?
 
When that moment happens, hold on tight and never let them go. It can be a forever relationship because the reward will be satisfying for both people.
 
And why not bond over things you enjoy outside the workplace? Ask your potential mentor/mentee out for coffee, or to spin class or to a manicure — your treat. The relationship should be authentic, inspiring…and fun.
 
How does reverse mentoring benefit both women and help established women in particular?
 
We need to foster meaningful relationships across generations in order to create a safe, comfortable and fun environment for young women to grow professionally. It’s the best opportunity for women to empower each other, build trust and reinforce their self-confidence.
 
Women, in general, have this unique capacity to listen, learn, multitask, empathize and create lasting connections. But we also have a tendency to doubt ourselves and want everything to be perfect. Establishing a reverse mentorship relationship offers all women a chance to strengthen their unique traits and discover and celebrate their confidence.

(MORE: Why You Should Mentor — And How to Do It)
 
How does The Ipso Girls' Lounge nurture this relationship?
 
Now more than ever, women are turning to each other, looking for inspiration. And, that’s how The Ipsos Girls’ Lounge came about. It allows women to talk business and life in a ‘girls only’ environment. We’ve seen more than 3,000 women pass through at some of the top business conferences, including Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and even Oprah’s ‘The Life You Want’ Weekend Tour.
 
We’re all about energizing the self, soul and sisterhood and helping women understand that there is power in conversation and we’re seeing first-hand how really good ideas come about when women get together. It’s about creating an environment of passion and acceptance, and knowing that your girlfriends have your back.
 
Have you had a reverse mentoring relationship yourself?
 
Yes. We all need a little, or in my case, a lot of help from our young and very talented friends. Working in partnership with these ‘digital natives,’ as I call them, allows me to explore the digital world with more confidence.

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