Q: I am a 32-year-old male IT executive who has been a mentor and community volunteer in the inner city for at-risk young black males for the past 10 years. It has been fulfilling, but I have found the lack of senior black executives willing to provide professional mentorship to aid in my career progression challenging and disheartening. With aspirations to become a C-level leader in corporate America, how can I obtain the support I need?
— A. Williams, Kansas City, MO
A: Although you’ve found it difficult to find a mentor, I’m glad you have not let that discourage you from mentoring others. We talk about mentoring often in the pages of BLACK ENTERPRISE, because it is the single most important step people can take — regardless of race — to fast-track their career. There may be several reasons why you’re having difficulty. Your work culture may not support those types of relationships. Also, some senior black executives feel uncomfortable choosing a black mentee for fear of appearing race-conscious.
But you also play a role in being selected for mentoring. Most mentors want to support someone who is likeable and has potential. Are you seen as a high performer? Are you well-regarded in your present position? Are you diligent in your follow-through on projects? Because mentorship is about strategy and positioning, you should pursue a variety of mentors inside your company and industry. They don’t have to be black. But they must be influential, well-informed, and skilled in navigating corporate politics.