January is National Mentoring Month, a month dedicated to encouraging more adults to become mentors to young people. While I have been fortunate enough to have been mentored by some wonderful women throughout my life, I’ve noticed that many young women of color cannot say the same.

For lower-income communities and communities of color, it’s especially important that younger people are able to have tangible proof that what they want to be in life is actually possible.

And mentoring isn’t just for younger people. Women and young women of color are often entering new territory in which we’ve been told that we don’t have the knowledge and tools to succeed. We look around and notice that there aren’t many of us around, and we’re bombarded daily with stereotypical images that don’t show us in a positive light.

Why is mentoring important?

According to the Young Women of Color Advocates and Leadership, a tool developed by the Women of Color Network, mentoring is a relationship of mutual understanding and trust between someone with more experience (the mentor) and someone with less experience (the mentee). Mentoring relationships allows for the building of new relationships and also an exchange of ideas and advice. Mentoring, when done right, allows for the mentee and the mentor to have a constant exchange of various perspectives and knowledge building that are beneficial to both.

With mentors serving in a variety of roles, such coach, teacher, and advisor, mentees benefit from mentoring relationships because they increase their knowledge of a particular subject (a career field, sport, or passion), they build their skills and self awareness, and are introduced to new ways of thinking about themselves and about life. Being mentored by someone who has “been there and done that”, allows for mentees to avoid many pitfalls on their way to becoming who they envision themselves to be.

Mentees aren’t the only ones that benefit from mentoring. Becoming a mentor allows one the opportunity to share knowledge and insights and offer sound advice. Mentors become a sound advocate for a mentee and will often do what they can to make sure their mentee succeeds. Mentors are often open to learning from their mentees as well. And let’s face it: knowing that a young life is being positively impacted by what you’re doing makes you feel good.

What does mentoring look like?

Many mentoring relationships happen naturally. Oftentimes, there’s never a a formal “We’re in a mentoring relationship!” exchange. Trust is established, and a bond forms. From navigating the college application process to learning new ways to apply a skill in a sport, both the mentor and the mentee collaborate in ways that enhance their lives.

Out of informal mentoring relationships  there are many organizations that offer a structured form of mentoring in which they pair up a mentee with a mentor and are given certain guidelines in which to follow. Examples include monthly contact (face to face, social media, phone, etc.), attending organizational events, and attending a mentoring orientation prior to the start of the mentoring relationship and continuing workshops throughout the relationship. Organizations such as The Cool Girls (who offers a Cool Sisters mentoring program) is a great example of a formal mentorship.

Another example of structured mentorship is Mentoring Latinas, a mentoring program developed by the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. Latina high school students are paired with current Fordham University students, who give them an insight into life as a Latina college student. Compared to other racial groups, young Latinas have one of the highest high school dropout rates and often fall victim to attempted suicide or poverty. Mentoring Latinas is changing how many young Latinas in the Bronx, New York see their futures. Mentees also get the chance to hear from professional Latinas in New York about their career and to get advice for avoiding the many pitfalls that Latinas face.

How is your mentoring relationship going?

Just like with any relationship, the best way to know if your mentoring relationship is beneficial for everyone involved is to evaluate where you are now and what you’re getting out of it. If you’re just starting a mentoring relationship, consider the following:

What do I want mentoring in (or What knowledge or skills can I share as a mentor?)

What do I hope to gain from a mentoring relationship?

How often do I want to see my mentee/mentor?

If you’ve been in a mentoring relationship for some time, here are some questions to consider:

What has been the most useful (or least useful) for me in my relationship with my mentee/mentor?

Should we meet more often? If not, how can we spend more time together (understanding that there may be time constraints)? 

How long do I want my mentoring relationship to last?

Mentoring is a great way to provide emotional support, personal growth,guidance, and to receive invaluable advice. A positive mentoring relationship continues to have a lasting impact, even after the mentoring relationship has ended. For young women of color, having someone who takes a personal interest in their well-being can be very motivating, and for women of color, becoming a mentor is a great way to have a positive, lasting impact on a young woman.