When Women Mentor Men

Women role models and mentors are a critical component of helping other women grow in their careers. But how might women impact workplace conversations around gender equity when they mentor men? Women mentoring men can help create more gender-neutral workspaces, address unconscious bias, help emerging male leaders develop greater insights into the critical contributions and workplace experiences of female colleagues, and replace stereotypes with real-world observations of senior women leaders.
Higher rates of promotion, bigger salaries, increased productivity, better networking skills and greater confidence are some of the proven benefits to having a mentor. With research from McKinsey & Company and others showing that women often receive less of the high-quality mentorship that accelerates careers, it makes sense that many companies encourage male leaders to mentor female team members. It’s an important step to accelerating women’s advancement. But how might senior women mentoring men impact gender bias?
“For businesses, economies, and people to get the demonstrated dividend that comes from gender-balanced leadership teams, we have to eliminate inaccurate, persistent perceptions about women as leaders. One way to do that is to observe and tell stories about how women leaders benefit men,” writes executive coach Rania Anderson in Harvard Business Review online.
Creating change together
Research shows that men who have women mentors are more aware of gender bias than those with only male mentors. This occurs both through women educating and challenging men about gender bias and through men reaping the personal career benefits of guidance from a senior woman. “Stereotypes change when people get new observations,” the article explains.
Founded in 1991 to help women advance in leadership and to help companies create formal programs of men mentoring women, the coaching and training firm, Menttium, recently introduced a new program in which women mentor men. They pair men in an eight-month program with one-to-one mentorship with a female senior leader to “build awareness, sharpen skillsets and continue to develop the confidence to be advocates for gender parity.”
Male mentees of female mentors surveyed by Menttium express a strong willingness to examine their own gender biases, feel more confident speaking up as an ally, are more willing to encourage other men to serve as allies and feel more personally accountable for supporting women’s development and advancement within their organization.
“Everyone needs strong mentors, sponsors and leaders in their careers,” Anderson says. “But it’s time we tell more stories of women leaders developing, supporting and advancing men in unexpected and powerful ways, too.”
Unique relationships
“Some of my greatest champions have been men, so I see mentoring as a two-way street,” says investor, educator, CEO of Surgical Solutions and author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive, Alyssa Rapp. “As women leaders, I don’t think our only obligation is to mentor women but to mentor talented people.”
Rapp will explore how to secure your own mentors and coaches in her session titled Lessons Learned from Leadership at the 2021 WFF Leadership Conference March 21-24 live in Dallas and virtually. “Women have a keen responsibility to mentor and coach the talent in their organizations whether it’s male or female,” Rapp adds. “That’s in their best interest as leaders and will help secure their long-term success.”
To the degree that women are often strong communicators and relationship builders, they can be naturals at both mentoring and being mentored, Rapp explains. She suggests focusing on the quality of the mentoring relationship, rather than quantity. “I believe that the best mentoring relationships are bespoke,” she says.
Whether seeking or serving as a mentor, Rapp emphasizes that needs change over time. “Some of my most trusted mentors are people I have counted on for 15 or 20 years,” she says. “Others have been just as helpful for shorter periods of time or around specific needs.”
Make it easy
When you take on the role of mentoring, be clear up front about what level of engagement you can offer and probe to better understand what specific type of support the individual seeks.
Likewise, when seeking a mentor, make it easy for her or him to be in your corner. “Be courageous in reaching out to senior leaders whose support you would value, but make it convenient for them to coach and advise you,” Rapp says. Prepare specific questions and follow up to let them know how their advice impacted you, she advises.
There is no question that women can benefit from male mentors, and that they must often rely on male leaders to assume the role because there are still fewer women in senior leadership. But women leaders can and do also have significant impact on men’s careers. When women mentor men, it not only helps men advance in their careers, it helps them learn inclusive leadership behaviors, better understand subtle acts of exclusion and become effective allies and advocates for gender equity in the workplace.

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