Women mentoring women; is your mentee sabotaging her own journey to success?

A few months ago, we got into a conversation regarding the role of mentorship in shaping future generations of women in business. This was one those threads that you get a day later on Twitter after the dust has settled. I continued the engagement, and for a good measure, it educated me.

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The gist was that young women venturing into business feel that older and or seasoned women in business were not doing a good job of mentorship. The complaints ranged from the unavailability of the mentors to the case where a mentor made someone carry a handbag…weird but interesting stuff.

On behalf of the mentors, I waded into the discussion hoping to understand and present the other side of the story, which I will, below.

Previously, I thought that as a mentor, someone is supposed to do 10 or 20 percent of the work, meaning if the mentee does 80 or 90 percent, they still manage very good performance, if not exemplary. I discovered that there was a gap in the understanding or expectations.


I understood why I had previously not achieved results as a mentor; I did my job, but my mentee had failed to launch; the business didn’t materialize, or she gave up, I was too disappointed or didn’t have the bandwidth to even ask.

All the mentees in this cohort have achieved results, they have contracts and can now start work. Five out of Five is great!

The mentees that I engaged, I was more calculating, and in the journey, I have learnt a few lessons.

When reading these lessons, they may seem harsh or brutal, I may not say this to your face, but it helps save our time. Please insert words like, “in my opinion”, “I think”, “It is better”…etc… it will soften it.

No one owes you anything

This was said by Sylvia Mulinge, Vodacom Tanzania CEO, during the last session of Safaricom Women in Business (WIB) forum. It may sound harsh, but when you think about it, people may open doors or provide opportunities; take it as a privilege and not a right. Take it as a chance to get out the best. A mentor may open their doors, value them, do your best, don’t make them jump hoops or act like you are too busy to meet your mentor. This mentality will also make you cherish all the opportunities that come your way.

Choose the right mentor/mentee

There are times the person you want doesn’t fit and it is ok to pass. For me, I avoid people with negative, defeatist, whiny and overall annoying attitude. I find that it saps my energy when I have to explain that at times its better to start, ask for help if unable and if you lose, you try another day.

It’s annoying when people say, “naskia huko hakuna kazi or kuna wenyewe” and they have never even knocked on doors and be turned away or even made steps towards getting that business. Its ok to listen, but also try so that you will have a story to tell.

Keep time, value time

I have never understood why people don’t keep time, in non-emergency cases. I take this as the greatest sign of disrespect and I take offense to it. I cannot dedicate my time, and then as a mentee to waltz in late with no proper reason, just excuses. Usually, when it’s not an emergency, I just imagine someone is giving me a middle finger salute.

How can you be expected to keep an appointment with a client? How can your team learn about the importance of keeping time if you don’t? How will your future mentees learn to keep time if you don’t show the way?

These are people who are never late to the bank or a spa appointment, but they will expect you to be ok with sitting and waiting, as their lack of proper planning takes its toll on you and your other appointments.

I have resigned to time taken in government offices, because those people don’t care about the concept of service delivery, at client offices because some of them think that they are doing you favor, in many times true, and to wait in traffic as politicians and their fuel guzzlers whistle past me.

In instances where I am volunteering, I refuse to waste that time.

What are you willing to lose?

The other day I had a discussion with a friend about career development and business. In her early days, her mentor asked what she was willing to lose to make it; money or some sleep to go to school and get her papers and the eventual promotion or just sit back.

Yes, we want to venture into business, we have not invested our money in our dreams, yet we ask others to invest, or ask where is the work, yet we have not invested resources to make it happen.

I have spent countless nights wondering how to make things happen, how to strategize, how to win the hearts of new clients, how to spread my resources, how to motivate the teams and how to just make the dream come true.

At times the sacrifice is the friends who you hang out with in high society places, or take exotic vacations because your money will be tied for a year or two as you chase your dreams.

You will be held to higher standards

At times life is unfair, and as women in business, we are not given the latitude to be mediocre, because when we are, then it becomes that we don’t know how to seize opportunities. My failure as a business person becomes the failure of the female gender.

Everyone around you may be average, but for some reason, if you miss a step or make a mistake, the hammer will come down so hard on you and it will become the lesson for future women in that line of business. The world is unfair, especially to women, find a way to work around it and get the results.

Every time I think of how unfair business process can be, I think about the woman with a baby on her back in a coffee estate somewhere, and that her bucket of raw coffee will be paid less than Ksh. 100, yet someone else in the city will pay double that for a cup of coffee, and I understand unfairness. Since I am in a better position, I make it count.

No one will set the table for you

As women, we like to be perfect. When someone says I will call you, we wait. When the contract is not ready, we wait. When you are the person without experience and seeking support, you email, you text, you visit the office. What do you stand to lose?

At times, people just forget or they have their own struggles that you know nothing about. It is important to stay current. At times you may have a different appointment in the office or building, pass by “just to say hello” and somehow they will remember. That’s a lesson I have learnt.

Not stalker mode. Just a reminder.

I have been in situations where I ask for an intro and it takes a while. One time I sent a text to remind, and she was like, oh I talked to the person last week and forgot to tell you, please go ahead and engage in my name. Which is all I needed.

You don’t stand to lose anything, especially when someone hasn’t asked you not to engage them. If they do, just stop, or take a hint, if they become cagey or non-responsive, please do not overthink why they have not returned the 100 calls, emails or texts, they are probably busy with office politics, doing their jobs or they just forgot.

It’s business, it’s not personal. It is not a romantic relationship, relax and just follow up.

Value results

In my many years, I have learnt that only my mother values my effort, the world will want the result of that effort. I was talking to a friend and she also agreed; when she was in primary and secondary school, the dad would demand position one, any other position would be met with cynical remarks of whether the person who was number one is in the same class or stream. With the mum, it was different; she would encourage her, regardless of position, and even offer a plate of food.

In business, I have gone through tough times and when I whine to my mum….she always encourages that the right time will come, God will make a way etc,…..even when I know she would like to assuage me to snap out of my mediocrity and find a way to circumvent the stumbling blocks, she acknowledges my hard work, my effort.

To the rest of the world, they want results to be concomitant to the effort.

So, when the system fails, find someone who can sort it. When you have no supporting documents, find someone who can help. When you face a challenge, find ways to overcome, join hands with others, try and rise up to that challenge.



By Rebecca Wanjiku, CEO Fireside Engineering Group

This article first appeared on , a website dedicated to the Safaricom Women in Business initiative 

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