Making the Most of Mentorship
While 76 percent of people consider mentors important, only 37 percent actually have one, according to a 2019 Olivet Nazarene University survey of 3,000 full-time employees in the United States. Most mentoring relationships developed naturally, with nearly 40 percent of mentorship relationships beginning with a request or offer, the study found. But therein lies the gap—without proactive action, mentorships are unlikely to get off the ground.
Mentorships offer an opportunity to surmount another prescient workplace dilemma: cross-generational conflict and management. Management books and Internet articles abound with complaints and potential solutions about how Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) could work with Millennials (born 1981–1996) or how Gen X (born 1965–1980) could steer the work culture of Gen Z (beginning 1997)—the latest generation of politically active, digital-native employees entering the workforce. And while there are many sticking points between generational norms, personal relationships through mentoring can help individuals connect more seamlessly across the workforce—especially in a field with as much professional longevity as security.
“The security field is unique; it seems we never really retire, as this is more of a profession and calling than a job,” says Jennifer Hesterman, security consultant, author, lecturer, and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. “As a result, there are four generations now represented in our workforce, with an age span of 55 years from new security professionals to the most seasoned. Although many see this as a challenge, it provides an incredible opportunity to tap vast knowledge, broad experiences, and a variety of technical and soft skill sets.”
“Mentoring is a powerful tool in leadership development, as it transfers knowledge and skills to the next generation of leaders,” she adds. “We don’t want to get into a position down the road where we lack a robust pool of people to lead the security industry. Academia is facing this very challenge and hiring college presidents from the business sector, the military, and other realms. Not that an outside perspective isn’t refreshing and welcome, but mentoring efforts can help us build a large pool of tested, prepared, and willing security leaders for the many challenges on the horizon.”
And that pipeline of capable and diverse leaders is needed. The tumult of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake up workforce demographics. Globally, women make up almost two-fifths of the global labor force, but they have suffered more than half of total job losses from the pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum.
In the United States, McKinsey & Company research found that one in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers due to the pandemic, compared to one in five men. Three major groups experienced some of the largest challenges: working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women. They were driven to the brink of dire career decisions by a variety of factors, including the stress of juggling home and work responsibilities while trying to meet pre-pandemic performance goals, feeling blindsided by decisions that affect day-to-day work, and difficulty talking with coworkers or managers about the challenges they face.
“There are so many factors that will change our demographics due to COVID,” says Donna Kobzaruk, executive director of global security for financial services company JPMorgan Chase. “It’s indisputable that women have left the workplace in droves. Women have made strides in diversity numbers only to see it’s changed. That’s why it’s even more imperative for women, as well as young professionals, to seek out a mentor. A mentor can guide you in having a voice and raising your profile within an organization.”
Different age groups have also been affected by the pandemic. A 2021 report from the National Council on Compensation Insurance found that U.S. workers between the ages of 16–24 experienced a 30 percent decline in employment, while older workers are on the rise with an expected 50 percent growth in U.S. workers over the age of 65 in the next decade. This will likely widen the age range in the security industry.
A multigenerational workforce, however, can offer opportunities—as well as challenges. Shelly Kozacek, CPP, director of security for ship repair at aerospace company BAE Systems, has been managing employees spanning the generational spectrum throughout four U.S. sites for years.
It is exciting for her “to have someone from generation Baby Boomer or Generation X to team up and mentor someone from Generation Y or a new college graduate,” she says. “There is a lot to be learned on both sides… The mentorship relationship is so valuable because both people learn from the experience. Getting that insight from someone you might not team up with yourself is really helpful.”
Over her 20-year career so far, Kozacek was first mentored by a knowledgeable and personable supervisor 30 years her senior who stepped forward to share his skill sets and leadership approaches while Kozacek served in the U.S. government. This mentor later became a peer she could lean on to determine what her role entailed and how she could expand her value when helping clients and the organization. Later in her career, Kozacek became a mentor, including through ASIS International, gaining as much value as she imparted, especially when it comes to her mentee’s technical skill set and digital savvy.
“Initially, in a mentorship, what you gravitate towards is trying to learn about daily ins and outs of certain processes and procedures, especially if they are internal to your organization, and trying to navigate past experiences,” she says. “My experience has been—in a mentorship relationship—once you’re beyond that initial ‘learning the ropes of the job’ stage, the mentorship relationship flourishes into more of an understanding of the leadership and how to reach—how to obtain that next level.”
Different generations and career stages have different mentorship needs, adds Kobzaruk, and mentor-led guidance can often focus on subjects that mentees cannot learn in a class or a book. Someone new to the security profession may need to focus on soft skills and cultural knowledge of the industry and his or her organization. A mid-level employee may need to focus on leadership skills, and once he or she has a firm grasp of the basics, the individual may need help learning how to progress up the hierarchy. Senior executives and leaders may also benefit from being co-mentored by a peer or a counterpart at a different organization or department to share management approaches and problem-solve.
“One of the more difficult items to grasp is organizational cultures,” Kobzaruk says. “When was the last time you’ve seen a class on knowing your organization’s culture? Having this knowledge will support a future leader on his or her trajectory into a leadership role, and a mentoring relationship is invaluable with maneuvering through cultures.”
Mentees should seek out mentors with savvy in the skills they want to learn, Kobzaruk advises.
“If a mentee would like to strengthen his or her leadership skills, look for a mentor that’s a well-respected leader in the industry,” she says. “The leader may be one level above or several.”
From her experience in the military, Hesterman says she finds that mentoring programs centered around a formal chain of command often fail. “Forced mentoring is uncomfortable for both mentor and mentee,” she says. “A mentor is someone we naturally gravitate towards.”
This might shift mentoring relationships outside typical manager–employee relationships, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Hesterman adds that bosses can be seen as coaches—people who are concerned with employees’ professional development—while mentors have a more holistic view of the mentee’s growth as a human.
“If the goal is to climb a mountain, a coach will provide fitness, nutrition, and equipment guidance—helping with the ‘how,’” she says. “A mentor would focus on why you want to climb the mountain and help with expectation management. Both are necessary to get to the top.”
Not every emerging security professional knows which mountain they want to climb, however. Author Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
Professionals who are seeking to climb the ladder but can’t quite find the first rung need some help, says Danny Chan, senior consultant for security monitoring and response in the Asia Pacific and Middle East region for Mastercard International. Chan says he spent a great part of his career as a rudderless boat, finding out the hard way what works and what doesn’t, and determining his career goals as he went along.
“As learning from someone else’s mistakes is a great way to learn, I have been helping the next generation of security leaders to not make these mistakes and, more importantly, help them craft out a path towards their goals,” he explains.
In Hesterman’s mentoring work with college students and young adults, she says she found that “many want information on how to achieve balance between their professional and personal lives. Sacrificing family, friends, outside interests, and personal health for work is not acceptable to new generations entering the workplace, nor should it be. Employees who achieve a work–life balance experience less stress, have lower risk of burnout, and a greater sense of wellbeing. This not only benefits employees, but also employers. Take care of the people, and they will take care of the mission.”
Mentees should be willing to adjust if needed, and so should mentors. “A mentor owes it to a mentee to provide the best service he or she can,” Kobzaruk says. This means tailoring mentoring styles and topics to the individual.
“I mentored an individual who was of a different culture than mine,” she says. “Although she initially stated she wanted help in leadership skills, it became apparent that she would be better served in strengthening her communication style. When I mentioned this, it was an ‘a-ha’ moment to my mentee, and I was pleased to see her successfully use the tips I provided.”
“We should style our mentorship by providing a more bespoke approach,” Chan says. “Regardless of age, gender, or professional status, to build rapport we need to better understand someone’s personality and character. For example, are they detailed or big picture? What is their moral compass? Are they people- or system-focused?”
Knowing these elements will help a mentor to adjust and provide effective guidance that reaches the unique mentee, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach.
As the parent of a 23-year-old, Hesterman adds, she understands firsthand the difficulties in launching a new career. Personal insights like these help her connect to younger employees and tap into their frustrations and concerns.
“Mentoring has a direct impact on employee retention for two reasons: First, mentees appreciate the investment of time and energy in their career and personal development, feeling more closely tied to and valued by the organization,” Hesterman says. “Also, mentoring is a way for leaders to gather information—by understanding the needs of young employees, it is possible to tailor programs to meet these needs and retain talent.”
The two-way street of mentorship has proved particularly valuable around soft skills, Kobzaruk says. While she can help educate mentees about critical communications skills in the workplace, mentees can provide insights on what motivates younger generations or how to communicate more effectively with a wide audience, which provides security value—not just leadership experience.
“Communication is a critical component in the workplace, but more so in security,” Kobzaruk says. “A lot of what we do is managing anxiety. A strong communication toolkit that provides different communication styles is invaluable.”
Mentoring programs have a long history within ASIS International. The Professional Development Community and ASIS have been working during the past decade to connect up-and-coming security professionals with mentors from across the industry to foster their skills and boost their leadership potential.
The latest iteration of the program—the Security Leaders Mentoring Program—is open to all ASIS members at any job level to connect security professionals with resources, advice, and guidance. The new program features a database of mentors and mentees, so mentors can list skills and expertise and mentees can find a mentor who aligns with their objectives.
“We’re looking to increase awareness and increase use of the mentorship program as a tool for individuals to have someone to reach out to, to ask questions, and to have discussions—someone who can help you get to the next level you want to be at,” says Shelly Kozacek, CPP, director of security for ship repair at BAE Systems and a member of the ASIS Professional Development Steering Committee.
Users of the program set up a profile and can search the directory for potential mentor matches to connect with. Mentorship relationships are encouraged to run at least six months, and ASIS provides resources and handbooks to help guide new mentors and mentees.
In addition to the value of connecting with higher level professionals, both mentors and mentees can reap benefits from learning from a third party outside their own organization or sector. When feedback and guidance is completely internal to an organization, it can produce a narrower mind-set, Kozacek says. But connecting with an outside professional helps participants branch out, bounce ideas off a new person, get objective feedback, and learn from new perspectives. This also enables mentors and mentees to bring those outside lessons learned back to the organization—advancing security, as well as their careers.
The program is now accepting both mentors and mentees. Learn more at asisonline.org/mentoring.