The Power of “Men”tors

September 6, 2013Born in India, and currently based there, Aarti Shyamsunder, PhD, a Research Manager at Catalyst, has always considered male champions key to her professional success.

I’ve been fortunate to have encountered a number of men throughout my professional life who not only recognized my talents, but helped me to develop and expand them.

I met S.R., a wealthy, successful family friend, when I was only 16 and still living in India. I remember being impressed that he ate at fancy Italian restaurants and had a chauffeur, yet was somehow still one of the most accessible adults I’d ever met. I went on to do my first internship in an ad agency, inspired by S.R.’s passion for the field. I also worked on a short-term assignment for him, surprising him—and myself!—by producing 92 pages of material. As a reward, he allowed me to shadow him in a marketing workshop—and the workshop bug bit me. Today, I think back fondly on the lessons he taught me just by sharing his own work and perspectives.

When I was 24, I was an international student in small-town Ohio with no connections or work experience. Finding a good job or even an internship seemed like a distant dream. I’d resigned myself to another year of working in the library or teaching the same course I’d taught for the last three semesters, when I suddenly landed a job interview for an assistantship with a well-known researcher. I had a feeling that P.L., a professor of mine, had something to do with it, but I didn’t know what I could have done to impress him. It turned out that P.L. had spotted my potential and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He became my champion, and his faith and willingness to nominate me for a rare opportunity–a “hot job” of sorts—made a world of difference. Thanks to him, I found a boss I loved working for, a research topic that excited me, and assignments that challenged me—which ultimately made me the applied researcher I am today.

Fast forward a few years, and I was back in India, working as an internal consultant for a large company. Among the people I worked with was G.R., an internal client and senior leader who struck me as one of the smartest people I’d ever met. I was impressed with his track record of entrepreneurship in a conservative environment, and he took an interest in the work I was doing. Rather than a traditional, top-down mentoring relationship, ours was a friendship between equals. I’m indebted to him for challenging me to find solutions, and always being there with advice in the form of a bad pun or a movie reference when I needed an impartial view. He never failed to make me question my assumptions and my long-term goals.

Whether it was S.R. opening new worlds to me, P.L. advocating for me behind the scenes, or G.R. finding new ways to test me, these “men”tors have left a lasting impact. They didn’t choose me as part of a formal mentoring program, or because they had a special goal of aiding women. Luckily for me, they simply noticed my potential and helped me to reach it.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.