Is It Impossible To Find A Female Mentor?

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Mentors_Interior1Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
I've been producing rude comedy (see: Eastbound & Down) for more than 15 years. I'm fairly cynical and slightly jaded about most things, but when it comes to mentorships, I get slightly dogmatic. Unfortunately, I've had far more male mentors than female ones. That's not subjective; I'm just stating a fact — a very important fact that has defined both my career and my life. Frankly, I find it wildly disappointing that I didn't have many women to learn from, so I'm on a mission to change that.

The way I see it, it's important to have both female and male backseat drivers. Statistically, men take more risks behind the wheel, while women generally have better driving records. So, having both male and female mentors will give you a balanced view of how to succeed.

But, where are all the female mentors? Most women I've come across agree that female mentors are hard to find. While my poll wasn't exactly scientifically sound, I heard over and over that women compete with each other. Perhaps they think that mentoring others could threaten their own upward progress. I believe that's called insecurity. Success is not a zero-sum game — you don't end up losing a piece of the pie if I enjoy some, and you certainly don't have to give me half of your slice.

Over the years, I thought I found some great female mentors who turned out to be not-so-great. One woman repeatedly stole from me, while another asked me to work for half my rate and took the other half for herself. That's not a mentor, that's a thief. (Yes, I promptly quit when I found out.) I've had women lie about me and lie to me. Sadly, in my experience, many women were just not supportive. To date, I've had a few different types of inspirational coaches — and they were all men.
Mentors_Interior2Photographed by Mark Iantosca.
First, there was my high school principal, Mr. Chance (cheesy puns abound!), who helped me through some of my most vulnerable years. I was floundering around with no real sense of direction (what's also known as being a teenager) when I decided I wanted to graduate a year early. He was the only one who supported that choice, and he came up with a set of rules and guidelines that included everything from completing the necessary coursework to not observing senior skip day.

Then, there's my boss and long-time friend, Bruce Richmond, who's been like my Northern Star. His wisdom guided me through my career for many years. While he can give a hell of a pep talk, he's a stand-out mentor because he always challenged me to answer why I'm doing something, or why I made a certain decision. It's a simple question, sure, but it should never be hard to answer.

At this point in my career, I'm lucky to be surrounded by some super-talented, strong, funny, no-bullshit ladies that I count as my daily mentors, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who helps me realize my full potential. They're all self-made in their chosen careers. They worked incredibly hard to get where they are and they take nothing for granted. But, that doesn't mean it was easy to find them — especially as I was carving out a professional path for myself.

I'm grateful every day for my career, even more that I have a job I love. I had a door open for me — albeit with the help of male mentors — and feel very strongly that it's my duty to open it for someone else.

I've been mentoring a fantastic girl from North Carolina for the past three years, ever since we worked on a project together for a week. Luckily, it only took those seven days to see her drive — she just needed someone to open the door. I did, and now, three years after we first worked together, she's an associate producer on Veep. Mentoring her has changed both of our lives for the better, and has taught me that investing in other people can be a great way to learn about yourself. Plus, if you're helping someone else get along, by definition you're no longer just thinking about yourself. Finally, we're each only as good as the team that surrounds us — so pass your knowledge along and pay it forward.

We're pretty sure Stephanie Laing is our spirit animal. The five-time Emmy-nominated TV producer of Veep, Eastbound & Down, and Banshee may only let herself feel fabulous for five minutes a day, but she spends her nights (once the kids are asleep, of course) curating her own blog, Put Your Pretty On.