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Mentoring with: Tina Louise Odgen

BARRIE: Tina, what kind of challenges have you faced? 

Barrie, I, like most people, have faced many challenges through-out my life.  Fortunately, challenge faced with insight and confidence often means new opportunity.  For example, when growing up, my school system, had limited resources, and no one in my family had gone to college.  However, mentors along the way provided guidance and direction and contributed to my successful undergraduate and graduate school studies. 

In another example, when I first entered the work world as a woman engineer, I went through a couple of years of sailing in uncharted waters.  However, I stuck to it, and persistence paid off.  Eventually I found a mentor who helped me navigate. 

BARRIE: How did you begin your interest in mentoring?

Well Barrie, my interest in mentoring began after I was in the corporate world and understood what it meant. My interest was fostered by the memory of mentors that guided me when I was younger, who through their coaching illustrated to me what it might be like –out-of-the-box. For my mentors in school and sports I am forever grateful. And it is in their memory and dedication that I give back.  In particular I had a sixth grade teach who told me his story of career woes and guided me to study math….

Barrie: Have you had other mentors along the way?

Yes.  When I was young, I did not recognize that individuals such as teachers, were mentoring me. However, once in the work place, I began to understand the valuable role of mentors.  Early in my career, I had two exceptional women mentors. While working in one company, the first mentor was my boss.  While at a different company, I was assigned a mentor through the Human Resources Department.  In this second case, it really worked well because this was a senior woman who was not in my chain of command.    This allowed her to be quite candid.

BARRIE: What do you think about women and the mentoring process? 

I think that women should reach out to mentor other women. Women need to seek and cultivate mentors as well.  Also, given that so many men are in the top ranks, and know the rules that got them there, women should realize that men can be valuable mentors as well. A male mentor will have keen insight to the rules of engagement while women mentors will have the shared experience of having gone through the same issues.

The experiences of working as a woman are different than for a man. This is a complex subject, but, most cultures still treat women differently from early childhood. This hinders women from learning early in life about many skills that are necessary in the business world. I learned much about these issues in 1986 when I was appointed to a New York State Task force to identify issues surrounding the lack of women and minorities in technical careers. 

For example, I think that men have a different level of emotion in the work place. They suppress their emotion. Boys learn this skill early on. For men, the career often becomes like a sporting event.  If someone gets a man mad, that “guy” scored and the offended man comes back to play another day. Women often have not learned this approach. Women tend to take things personally. This is one example as to why a woman mentor is important. 

Women also have workplace issues like finding role models or career paths that are viable with raising a family. I believe that an experienced career woman can coach a young woman just starting out better on this subject than a man could.

On the other hand, we see some cases in the workplace where women are in denial. I was meeting with a female Nobel Laureate and asked her about women in the work place. Her answer was that there were no women-issues for her in the work place. By the time of this conversation, I had professional experience and was not convinced about what she said. However, I recognized that it had to be either her perception, or her public position on the subject. She remained black and white that she had no workplace gender issues. In another example, I know a professional woman about the same age as the Nobel Laureate (late 60s-70s) who was a CEO, and now serves on several Fortune 100 boards. She does many things to help other woman and recognizes those challenges unique to women..

BARRIE: What types of mentoring have you done?

The mentoring that I have done has taken three forms:

presentation to groups
structured “corporate” mentoring
impromptu assistance to a range of individuals in need.

The presentation to groups was often centered on career day programs or other career forums. This often takes the form of motivational speaking with a broad overview to introduce opportunities in science, math, engineering or technology to persons who may not have any idea why that foundation is important.

The Structured Corporate mentoring took place in “corporations. ”Actually, this was one of my better experiences in being mentored.  When I worked at Bank of New York, I was assigned a mentor. That was fabulous. I was assigned a career savvy woman who guided me on corporate cultural issues and management communication issues. It was very powerful. Later, when I became the assigned mentor at a different firm, I had an understanding of the power of mentoring. I was able to provide my mentees with guidance for both the company specific issues as well as broader career issues. 

Impromptu mentoring comes about when persons comes to me either word-of-mouth or another route. In this case, I have a list of persons that I have provided guidance to over the years. In this category, the guidance seems to fall in two areas. Strategic issues like, “I have this problem. It just came up. Can up can you help?” A couple of these have been salary negotiations. Another example has been how to exit a company. Other issues have concerned discussions of next steps for career moves, “What are the pros and cons of possible career opportunities? In this category, much of the work is instilling confidence in the person to take a certain step

BARRIE: Do you see a theme across the persons you have mentored?

Yes Barrie, I think so. And the theme varies by venue. For the mentees participating in a career day, the biggest take away they can have is to have their imagination opened, get motivated about new opportunities, and gain confidence about continuing to study in science and math. For the corporate mentees, the theme is more like the aha insight, that psychological event that occurs when someone understands a concept clearly for the first time.  For these corporate mentees, you can see the lights bulbs coming on when they realize that a corporate issue really is less “about them” and more “about how the system works”.  Eyes also open when a mentee realizes that a career is like a complicated long-term game where there are pieces that have to be collected before something else can happen.  (Getting ones ticket punched).

Barrie: What do you think is an important message for all persons out there?

Barrie, I think the most important message is that empowerment comes through risk taking.  Using the subject of mentors as an example, a woman generally must seek a mentor.  This will not happen with taking the risk of asking someone for assistance and then risk that the person may responding, “no.”  Likewise, if a woman finds a mentor, she must take the risk to execute the suggested steps in order to progress towards desired goals and results.  We cannot grow or succeed as individuals, even with guidance, if we do not take the associated risks.   

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