How Men Can Be Effective Workplace Mentors for Women
Although nearly 50% of the US workforce is female, there is a staggering shortage of women in top leadership roles. This imbalance is largely due to the many types of bias that women face in the workplace. However, a lack of mentorship is also a contributing factor. Since the vast majority of leadership positions are held by men, more men need to take an active role in mentoring women. Organizations need to encourage men to share their knowledge, connections, and social capital to increase the ability of women to thrive in the workplace.
To create an inclusive environment where women can be mentored by men, men need to:
1. Be aware of biases. Unconscious biases feed the traditional ideas of male/female relationships. In these constructs, women are expected to be nice, caring, and subservient. If the male/female workplace relationship unconsciously becomes more like “father/daughter” or “husband/wife”, a mentorship relationship cannot exist. These traditional relationship concepts can undermine women’s abilities and effectiveness in the workplace. To overcome this issue men need to explore their own biases and how they relate to women. They need to be deliberate and thoughtful when establishing the mentoring relationship and avoid reverting to stereotyped roles.
2. Understand different leadership styles. The traditional male leader could be described as assertive, competitive, and domineering. However, research tells us that effective leaders are much more emotionally intelligent and collaborative in nature. This is aligned with the characteristics and leadership styles of women, but many of them still struggle to find a balance between being liked and respected. Male mentors need to understand this struggle and help women enhance their natural leadership style. Assuming that women need to be domineering, heavy-handed leaders to be effective is not a constructive framework.
3. Be generous with influence and connections. Men need to share power and influence to help level the playing field. To be an effective mentor, men need to vouch for the skills and abilities of women and celebrate their accomplishments. This gives women greater credibility and improves perceptions of legitimacy.
4. Don’t confuse attention and affection. An effective mentoring relationship requires a lot of time and interest in the other party. Both parties need to keep the relationship professional, but men especially need to tread cautiously because of the power imbalance.
By mentoring women, men can help make the workplace more equitable. Through sharing their knowledge and networks, male leaders can help women advance and achieve greater career success. Mentoring a woman also has benefits for men. They can become aware of their own biases, gain a new perspective on leadership and an increased ability to support women as professionals. They may also achieve greater respect and credibility from women at all levels for their dedication to supporting the career growth of women in the workplace.