I no longer remember who said this -- I think it might have been the inimitable Detroit blogger @RustBeltRebel or someone she retweeted -- but I once read advice along the following lines:
Don't waste our time trapped in the cycle of doing the "women's work" of endlessly "mentoring" other women.
Get them GOOD JOBS. Hire them. Fight to get them promoted / raises.
I took it to heart, alongside lessons from a business-owner family member who taught me the value of good business correspondence and of cultivating talented junior staff into management roles.
Ever since I read that advice, I try not to worry too much about offering people career advice unless they ask.
But you'd darned well better bet I try to find every opportunity to talk to hiring managers on people's behalf.
- Warning: In-network advocacy is a powerful way of getting people jobs, and also an extremely nepotistic one that can reinforce all sorts of pre-existing class/gender/race/ability/sexuality/age/etc. biases, so wield it with care and use it to smash ceilings, not reinforce them.
Whenever I'm impressed by someone at the office, I write down notes about why after a few years of working with them and save them in a file (often times I also cross-post it on their LinkedIn as a recommendation), lest I forget long after I stop working with them.
Especially if those people seem humble.
(And let's be honest, it's often minorities and women who have impostor syndrome and/or succeed in many ways around the office by being humble ... so I try to make particularly sure that I take such notes about them.)
Every chance I get, I try to parlay this into "getting good people hired."
The first thing I saw in my inbox this morning was the great news from a colleague who trained me into my job that she'd gotten her first management job, and I'm over the moon with excitement.
Six months ago, when her old boss was promoted, I'd thought it was a given that she'd simply be promoted into the slot without a word. How could anybody fail to notice she'd been successfully doing half the job for 15 years? Was there really any point in hiring anyone else into the position?
But alas, the listing went full-public 2 months ago.
I checked in to verify that she was applying, because ... duh, right?
She had, but barely! She didn't think people would see her as qualified.
As soon as I knew her application was in, I hermited myself into my office and went into the same level of focus on writing that I'd give one of my own cover letters.
- I started with a post-it of "word association" about her talents; that served as an "outline." (I hadn't yet taken the time to write down her assets in my "file.")
- I wrote HR, verified that the hiring manager was her old boss, and confirmed which HR official was involved in hiring.
- I e-mailed HR + her old boss a recommendation letter mentioning that "she didn't know I was sending this letter," but that I was compelled to because I believed so strongly that we needed her in the position.
I spent time on that letter.
It was the best writing I'm capable of.
After I sent off my letter, I wrote back my colleague saying how excited I was she was applying and gave her a copy of the recommendation letter so she could see her reflection in my eyes and have some ideas about the ways in which I thought she was qualified.
I don't typically send recommendation letters to the candidate, but in this case, it seemed useful.
To tell you the truth, I couldn't believe my colleague wasn't sure she should apply for a promotion to do similar work at a higher salary.
But I know, statistically, that women tend to refrain from applying to jobs they feel under-qualified for compared to men.
I know, statistically, that women and minorities tend to be the most burdened by impostor syndrome.
I know, culturally, that being "extra humble" can be a professional asset for women and minorities except at key career-advancement moments, and that it can be hard to break out of that mindset for yourself (or to be seen otherwise by hiring managers after you've played the role so well for so long).
So I try to be ever at the ready to follow through on that initial advice:
Don't just "mentor" women and minorities.
Do everything in your power to help them get jobs, raises, and promotions.
And raise a glass with me, because today, it worked!
(I actually sent two recommendation letters last month, but the other candidate lost out to someone with more experience with a "but we liked you; keep trying." Like the candidates, all you can do is your best!)