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Battle of the Sexes: Mentor Edition, Pt 1

Battle of the Sexes: Mentor Edition, Pt 1

Battle of the Sexes: Mentor Edition, Pt 1

The country has been abuzz with discussions of gender in the workplace; the pay gap, sexual harassment, and power imbalances. As our society questions gendered standards of behavior at work, we all must hold ourselves accountable for how we contribute to a culture that privileges one gender over another. When it comes to breaking the glass ceiling, mentoring can be a valuable tool, but if you want a definitive answer on who should mentor whom, the jury is still out. At eMentorConnect, we know there are no hard and fast rules about who makes a great mentor, as long as they’re engaged, motivated and passionate. This two part blog series will explore the benefits and challenges of female mentees paired with female vs. male mentors.

Women Mentoring Women

Being the minority gender in many industries can make some women feel uncomfortable, but having an open line of communication with a woman who’s been at the company longer can help. Lucy Ward, Creative Brand Director of Trouva, tells smallbusiness.co.uk that having a female mentor “allows young women to ask questions that are sometimes hard to discuss in male-dominated environments…balancing a demanding career with children and confronting the gender pay gap.”

We love to categorize men and women based on biological or cultural traits– we often think of women as being more emotional and empathetic, which might allow them to be better mentors. But having a female mentor does not necessarily mean that she’ll give you a shoulder to cry on. The Atlantic recently reported on the engineering field’s gender representation in secondary education to examine the results of female students with female vs. male mentors. The results proved fairly conclusive: “female engineering undergraduates who are paired with a female mentor felt more motivated, more self-assured, and less anxious than those who had either no mentor or a male one.”

Not so fast with the assumptions, remember? In this study, mentors kept records of all of their conversations, which reveal that male and female mentors discussed all the same topics with mentees. The female mentees themselves don’t characterize their male mentors as cold, on the contrary: they report finding them “just as supportive and available as the female mentors.” Instead, the key to the success of women mentoring women might be in the power of representation itself: Nilanjana Dasgupta, who conducted the study “speculates that the men just couldn’t act as role models in the same way that other women could.”

Before women start adding mentoring to their miles-long ToDo List, let’s be clear. We are not advocating for putting an unfair share on the plate of executive level women, who often take on more than their fair share of not just work duties, but also family and home tasks as well. Furthermore, most companies wouldn’t even have the option of pairing all their female mentees with executive-level female mentors. Sounds like you’ve got to get the men involved, right?

Check in with us next week to learn about the up side to men mentoring women, and how the burden of developing workplace inclusivity and equality can’t just rest on the shoulders of women.

Kate Mason