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We’re mentoring misfits.

LinkedIn surveyed nearly 1,000 female professionals in the U.S. and found that most American women feel that it’s important to have a mentor.

I do. I’m always harping on the need to find a mentor to help make career transitions–especially if you’re changing fields to start a second career. But most boomer women don’t.

About two-thirds of boomer women–between 45-66 years old–say that they are not being or have not been mentored by women, according to LinkedIn’s study released today.

 LinkedIn asked the women who hadn’t had a mentor why that was the case. More than half of the women say they hadn’t had a mentor because they had, “never encountered someone appropriate.”

Fewer mentors. I think there is a good explanation for why boomer women are mentor-less. When we were getting rolling in the work world, there weren’t as many women in senior slots to look up to, or ask for guidance.

And those who were there could be pretty guarded about supporting other women. They were very protective of their much fought for status. Heels high, nails sharp.

When I began my career, I was eager to find a woman I admired, who would go to bat for me, help me up the ladder, teach me, even help me figure how to dress appropriately, for gosh sakes. I loved the “casual blue jeans and suede cowboy boots look.”

Financial journalism was still a male-dominated cadre at the top of the masthead. Male editors were more willing to offer advice, but that could be tricky. Office politics generally don’t cotton to an older man mentoring a younger woman, no matter how well-intentioned.

The first time I reached out to establish what I thought was a female mentoring relationship at work, I was singed. Here’s what happened.

My mentor slap-down story. I was a young reporter at Forbes back in the mid-80s and assigned to do the legwork for a well-known female columnist’s column.

It was an honor. I loved tackling the reporting assignments for her column, interviewing the people, and writing up my findings. She would use my material for her column, which appeared every two weeks. I was learning so much and reveled in watching her use her smarts, and wild blonde hair to wield her coveted real estate at the magazine. I wanted to be like her when I grew up, I suppose.

One day, she had a cover story for the magazine, or I should say, we did. I reported a huge chunk of it, flying around the country to interview top academics in California and so forth. It was heady stuff.

When the day came for it to go to press, the copy desk editor, showed me the advance pages and wow, the columnist had given me a co-byline on the story. I was walking on air–my name on a cover story for Forbes.

I raced out to buy flowers for her and took them to her office to say thanks. She snapped” “What are these for?” When I told her, she said, “You are not getting a byline. It’s my cover.”

And that was that.

I never worked for her again. Since then I have found a few women, who have given me advice, support, and plenty who gave me great assignments and continue to do so. But I have never let myself be vulnerable and trusting like I was in my early days. I learned to observe and work hard, and I have never asked anyone to be my “mentor.”

Look outside the office. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a “business” relationship. You can find mentors outside the workplace from associations you belong to, activities you’re involved in, neighbors, and yep, relatives. I call my older sister for guidance. This works for me. She’s smart, successful, and a good listener with clear advice and no hidden agenda.

For most women, it’s awkward to ask not only for help and advice, but to go out on a limb and say will you be my mentor? In fact, 67 percent of the women LinkedIn surveyed said they had never mentored another professional because, “no one had ever asked.”

The good news is reportedly many big corporations– General MillsIntel Corp, Ernst & Young, Proctor & Gamble, for example, have created mentoring programs for their employees. Some outfits have programs designed for women to help to gain greater access to senior management positions.

If you’re not privy to one of these formal programs, here are some steps to build a mentor relationship.

Start by asking for advice. Giving advice is something we all like to do. One of my favorite career coaches, Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting in Washington, DC, has this tip: “You might approach a senior colleague and say, “I want to get better at X, and I notice that you are great at X, so I wonder if you could give me advice about this X type challenge?” I would add to this that, depending on your situation, you might find yourself asking someone younger than you for advice, particularly when it comes to technology-related areas, even social media.

What’s in it for them? You need to show your appreciation. “Can you, the mentee, make the relationship more reciprocal by serving as a source of information and support for your mentor in some way?” Jones asks. It’s the proverbial two-way street.

Be a mentor. This will give you a better idea of how to work with a mentor yourself. Even if you are at the bottom of your hierarchy at work, you can find mentees through alumni and non-profit networks, Jones says.

Skip the flowers.

  • For more on the LinkedIn survey, click here.
  • For more advice from career coach Beverly Jones, click here.
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