Mentorship and practice culture

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Mentorship and practice culture

Mentorship comes in many different forms, from many different people. It may be another analyst helping you write something in Stata, a consulting associate sharing his or her experiences and advice about career progression, or a principal or VP describing economic analysis or how to work with different clients. Mentorship is incredibly important for personal growth and career progression, but don’t forsake true relationships and connections by getting swept up in doing what you think you’re “supposed to do.”

In her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg addresses the lack of women in leadership positions at companies around the US, and tells stories from her own life giving her perspective on what everyone can do to solve this issue. Her chapter on mentorship - aptly titled “Are You My Mentor?” - comes from her experience of having many people ask her to be their mentor and feeling awkward about it. She says that “chasing or forcing a connection rarely works,” and yet she “sees women attempt this all the time.” Sandberg describes the process of “searching for a mentor” as the “professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming.” She says that the solution to this problem is to tell women: “Excel and you will get a mentor.” This advice is applicable to my experience at CRA thus far.

At CRA, and especially in the Antitrust & Competition Economics Practice in Oakland, you don’t need to run through the halls asking strangers to be your mentor (and you shouldn’t). For one thing, no one is a stranger! In addition, everyone is open to offering assistance and advice. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. It’s also a good idea to ask for feedback; to follow Sheryl Sandberg’s mantra, ask your managers what areas you should focus on strengthening your skills in or what tasks they would like you to approach differently and how. Take advantage of the other junior staff to learn about how to follow the coding, formatting, and memo-writing conventions of your specific office or team.

Our close-knit, collaborative, academic office culture is conducive to forming relationships with seniors and building one’s own skill set and knowledge. Mentor relationships can be as casual as shouting over your cube to someone sitting near you, asking how to do something in Stata. They can also be more formal, like having check-ins with your supervisor. For my check-in two weeks ago, my supervisor, Ann, took me to a coffee shop down the street. We talked about my latest utilization report and the lessons from a recent training we attended. I shared what I had been working on since my last check-in with her and what I’ve learned from my ongoing project work. We also chatted on a more personal level about our upcoming plans for the holidays.

Seniors are invested in developing junior staff. Since the junior staff are often the owners of the data analysis or background research, interactions with seniors are a two-way conversation. In this way, mentorship is mutually beneficial. Everyone has strengths and skills that are valuable to the collaborative environment at CRA, juniors and seniors alike, and thus there are opportunities for everyone to be mentors.