CULTURE, BUSINESS, GENDER
Building a culture of trust: Research Narrative founder Kerry Edelstein recalls mentorship gone perfectly right.
At my first job out of college, I was a 22-year-old woman with a 30ish year-old male boss. I loved John; he was the perfect mentor for me. Smart, proactive, funny, and willing to trust me with responsibility beyond my job title, he was exactly the kind of professional I was setting out to become.
Working for John, I thrived. I talked directly to clients. I wrote proposals. I saw studies through from design to presentation. After less than two years on the job, John put me in front of a client to give a presentation. His only note at the end was, “That was surprisingly good. But slow down a little bit.” Comically, I still get that note. You can take the girl out of New York; it’s a lot harder to take the New York out of the middle-aged woman.
Today’s society might have a lot of problems with the way John and I interacted. On multiple occasions, we were alone at the office working late together, preparing reports until the wee hours of the night. It was the 90s, and those reports weren’t going to print and collate themselves.
On another occasion, I went with him and his sister to a Rolling Stones concert. His sister and I bonded in shared indignation that they didn’t serve beer at the Carrier Dome. For many months after, she and I would laugh about the irony of attending a dry Stones concert.
On yet another occasion, John and I entered a relay triathlon together, this time involving his brother. I swam, John’s brother cycled, John ran. A 23-year old woman, high-fiving her boss in a bathing suit could go very wrong on social media these days. But we had a blast. And we won our division.
Being a good team outside of work heightened our effectiveness as a team at work. I didn’t just respect and learn from John, I had fun working with him.
Perhaps part of our successful formula is that I equally adored John’s wife, who led another team in our company. She was truly fantastic at her job, and I loved working with her, too. I had tremendous admiration for her, and she for me.
But it was her husband who was my first mentor. Her husband that invited me to join his team, his hobbies, his sibling outings. Her husband that invested time and money in cultivating my professional skills. And I really couldn’t have asked for better mentorship right out of college.
My dynamic as a young woman with a male boss was never weird. It was never uncomfortable. It was never inappropriate. There was no flirting. No getting hammered together. No crossing boundaries. What there was, was trust.
I’m grateful that John’s wife trusted us. I’m grateful that our employer did too. And I’m grateful that John shared my value system of being worthy of that trust. For a couple years, we made a hell of a team.
As I look around today at all the people who’ve witnessed (or experienced) workplace sexual harassment, especially toward younger women, I often think to myself, it doesn’t have to be that way. The experience I was fortunate to have, that’s what every young adult should have.
As managers, we’re often reminded to be decisive. Be confident. Be forward thinking. Be responsible.
Let’s not forget to be trustworthy, too.
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