06 Nov Battle of the Sexes: Mentor Edition, Pt 2
Last week, we dove into the arena of gender in the workplace and presented the debate on which gender is better suited to mentor a female mentee. As we demonstrated, women make excellent mentors for other women, primarily because they provide a mode of representing the kind of success the mentee hopes to achieve. Unfortunately, there simply are not enough women in executive level roles to mentor every incoming female team member.
The Case for Men Mentoring Women
In Forbes’ “#Mentoring Moments” series, a study shows that “women tend to mentor other women more frequently than men…but the paucity of women up the ladder ahead of you may mean that you need to look beyond your ladder.” Furthermore, Debbie Kissire, executive director at Ernst & Young stresses, “there’s a strong case for building relationships with male mentors, particularly if you’re in a male dominated industry. The vast majority of men value the opportunity to support women so be careful not to assume otherwise.” But how can you advise a male executive to be an excellent mentor without harping on the gender difference so much that you’re encouraging differential treatment?
1. Be An Ally
Stacy Blake-Beard, PhD, a Professor of Management at the Simmons School of Management urges male mentors to take on the role of ally specifically when approaching female mentees. Allies are “dominant group members who work to end prejudice in their personal and professional lives, and relinquish social privileges conferred by their group status through their support of nondominant groups,” she explains. Being an ally isn’t just about providing support to your mentee, but actively reversing the disenfranchisement of female employees made commonplace in our society. How? Keep reading.
2. Don’t Just Talk
Advice is great, but as they say, talk is cheap. If you’re finding that the mentorship experience never goes beyond one-on-one meetings and verbal guidance, step up your game. One woman interviewed by the Harvard Business Review about her experience having a male mentor recalls, “I realized before I gave the presentation, thankfully, that he was giving me a huge opportunity to be seen by a much broader audience and he never made a lot fanfare about it. He never told me that he wanted to help my career. He just did.” Furthermore, another female colleague noted about her experience, “I often went to lunch with him when he went to lunch with people. I sat in on a lot of phone calls.” In general, mentees of any gender shouldn’t just learn about flying, but actually get the opportunity to jump out of the nest.
3. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Network
One of the struggles that women in male-dominant workplaces often face is having a narrower network of colleagues simply because of their gender. Reasons for this problem can range from the innocuous to the downright nefarious, but ally mentors work to undo this problem. Another female mentee cites the expansion of her network as a direct impact on her success, “You get increased contacts across the organization and more senior contacts than you typically would, because even if you haven’t met somebody, if they’ve seen your name on a report or heard of your name with regard to a high profile project, when you do meet them they already know who you are.”
If you search for a unifying motto in the above recommendations, you’ll find this one: “same team!” Making the workplace more diverse and equal must be a responsibility for everyone. If you are a talent manager, HR administrator, or executive, it’s up to you to set that example. Forbes cites McKinsey & Co’s latest report that demonstrates that “when more women sit at the decision-making tables, better decisions are made.”
Unfortunately, in our current state of inequality, the same research shows that “if women don’t reach a critical threshold in their career early enough, they either stop reaching out for support or their organizations stop extending it.” So make it a priority to encourage women in your company to ask for support. There are considerable benefits for your company as a whole whether that mentee’s guidance comes from a male or female mentor. Either way, make it happen!