Seventy-six percent of people think mentors are important, but only 37 percent of people say they have one. Why such a huge gap?
Maybe time, maybe logistics, maybe uncertainty over how the relationship comes to be—there are dozens of possible reasons why mentorships don’t happen. But one big one for women, especially women in male-dominated industries, is that it can be tricky to find a senior employee or leader who’s prepared to shepherd you through the nuances of your environment, even if that environment aims to be as inclusive as possible.
That’s why, if you’re looking to strategically grow at work, seeking a company with a mentorship program in place can be truly beneficial in forging a connection that helps you thrive.
Ursa Major, a leader in the aerospace industry, is one such organization. Their mentorship program lasts five months and provides resources to mentees and mentors on building strong connections—questions to explore, information on active listening, and more. Pairs are encouraged to meet up at least twice a month until the final check-in, when the entire cohort gathers to share their experiences. Ursa uses their feedback to adapt the mentorship program for future cohorts.
We reached out to mentees and mentors at Ursa Major to demystify the mentorship process. These are the six things you need to know about embarking on this foundational relationship, from women who've had successful mentorships of their own.
“I do structural and thermal finite element analysis for all parts of the engine, helping to determine how and when our parts will fail, while working with designers and manufacturing engineers on improvements. My specialties are full engine assembly simulations, combustion devices, and using test data to anchor analyses.” —Cailah DeRoo, Staff Propulsion Analyst
“My role is to ensure the build technicians have what they need to build engines—while also managing budgets, internal and external schedules and expectations, flow of communication, and maintaining a working knowledge of all parts in motion and their status.” —Kristen Sebella, Senior Aerospace Buyer
“My team is responsible for developing and improving the processes we use to make rocket engines. We work to make rocket production scalable. We're passionate about continuous improvement, empowering people, and digitizing aerospace manufacturing.” —Nancy Cable, Senior Director, Manufacturing Engineering
“I serve as the main point of contact for the customer, providing everything from program updates to detailed technical summaries on engine operation. The mission program manager is responsible for doing everything possible to ensure our customers’ success, which means I review all delivered hardware, design decisions that may impact the customer, and program risks, as well as support engine install, test and flight operations in the field.” —Kat Hornstein, Mission Program Manager
Ursa Major develops high-performing, low-cost engines for launch and hypersonic applications, which for us earthlings means they’re powering the next space race. But beyond how cool that is, we like how their three top metrics—Maternity and Adoptive Leave, Paid Time Off, and Flexible Work Hours—are parent- and life-friendly. Click to explore other reasons why Ursa Major is an out-of-this-world place to work.
6 things to know about successful mentorships, according to women who’ve had them
1. Your mentor doesn’t have to be a woman… but it might help
When seeking out a mentor, having a shared identity isn’t always necessary, but it can be a huge bonus if you’re both “outsiders,” so to speak, in your roles or industries, because you’ve likely faced similar challenges. “I’ve never had a professional mentor before, and I was excited to be paired up with someone who could share advice and thoughts coming from a different perspective and provide guidance or suggestions for career and personal growth,” mentee Cailah DeRoo says. “I was looking for a mentor who was open to sharing their own experiences and was available to go to for questions about challenging professional situations. I didn't specifically request a mentor who was a woman, but I'm definitely grateful that I was paired with one since we could talk about similar experiences of being in a male-dominated industry.”
2. Mentorships help you learn more about your company
“I wanted to join the mentorship program to develop a more rounded foundation,” says mentee Kristen Sebella. “I firmly believe that cross-training and understanding of other roles and duties is what sets you apart, and helps the team to the greatest extent. I wanted a mentor that would be upfront with the challenges and benefits of their role, and who I could work with to identify and fill gaps between departments.”
My greatest takeaway was informative exposure to what goes on ‘behind the scenes,’ it really helped to develop an understanding of the needs and challenges of other departments, and how they impact other teams. It also presented several improvement opportunities from my perspective, and I hope to make progress with them going forward.”
Mentor Nancy Cable says mentorships, for her, are about that connection that Sebella mentioned. “I have made an effort to lean into opportunities at Ursa to make an impact and to connect more deeply with my coworkers,” she says. “Mentoring checked both of these boxes. I have been both a mentor and mentee for the past six or seven years. The relationships have been long-lasting, helping me to grow personally and professionally.”
3. The format of a mentorship can be molded to who you are
Mentorships might sound formal, but they can be as structured or as casual as you like—it all depends on what you and your mentor decide. DeRoo, who works remotely, met with her mentor over Microsoft Teams for an hour every week. “I didn’t set any goals specifically, and our sessions were more open ended than structured,” she says. “I came prepared with questions and topics that I wanted to talk about, and my mentor usually had an activity or prompt to close the session.”
Sebella met less frequently—once a month, for about an hour each time—and in person. “We set specific goals that we worked toward on our off time, i.e. building a schedule to manage an assembly’s lifecycle,” she says. “During our meetings, we reviewed, and she offered insight and recommendations for improvement.”
From the mentor's side, Cable says, “My mentee did a phenomenal job of driving the relationship and showing up to ask for what she needed. Taking the time to get to know each other personally and professionally formed a good foundation. We decided together how often to meet, what duration made sense and gave each other flexibility with our busy schedules. We started with what my mentee was hoping to get from the program overall. Most of the time she showed up with questions and we shared experiences and dialogue. I also structured some activities to spark conversation and self-discovery. My mentee was willing to be very vulnerable as well as direct, which helped me know if our sessions together were meeting the mark and how to readjust.”
4. Your mentor can help you workshop scenarios you’re dealing with right now
Mentor Kat Hornstein became a mentor because she wanted to help promote talented individuals within Ursa Major. “I personally struggled with confidence in my early career, and had a few excellent mentors help me find my footing. My goal was to help others looking to grow (and possibly lead) in the same way,” she says.
Part of Hornstein giving her mentee a leg up was helping her to navigate day-to-day challenges. “We talked through professional goals and potential growth paths up front, and then outlined tasks meeting-to-meeting that would support those goals,” she says. “Taking real work scenarios and then translating them into learning opportunities turned out to be a good way to find specific skills to work on!”
5. The mentor grows, too
It might seem like mentorships are all about up-and-coming talent, but successful mentorships are symbiotic relationships. “Mentoring always reminds me to focus on my excitement and passion for my job,” Cable says. “This Ursa mentoring relationship challenged me to get better at remote communication. My mentee had some insightful questions that made me think hard about why and how I interact and structure my work. I loved that I got to think critically about my own job and learn more about hers.”
Hornstein adds: “It has made me better understand what parts of my career I love. I want everyone to feel the same passion for what they do. Part of the mentorship is also breaking down what is difficult about my job, though, and finding common experiences with my mentee. I think that type of reflection is really valuable.”
6. Mentorships are relatively low effort, high reward
Putting time into anything takes time away from something else, we all know that to be true. But mentorships are about making time for self-reflection, vulnerability, and vision—in essence, having a great, grounding conversation with someone who wants you to succeed. “Our mentoring talks haven't changed my plans for my career but hearing some affirmations and direct support has helped build confidence in my choice so far.” DeRoo says.
And the benefits of carving out time are worth the hour or so every few weeks. “Opportunities for mentorship should never be passed up—there are so many benefits ranging from simply making friends and connections, to potentially redirecting your career if you discover a new passion,” Sebella says.
Plus, even as the mentorship winds down, the relationship remains—a win-win for both people involved. “We just finished our mentoring relationship,” Cable says. “Moving forward I know that I have a strong connection in another department. I anticipate that we will continue to interact technically and personally, especially when my mentee is onsite. I feel like we forged a successful professional relationship, and I made a friend.”