Women’s Mentoring and making a crack in the ‘Glass Ceiling’!

Breaking through the glass ceilingSupporting women talent specifically requires a further lens on how you look at your talent mentoring design, so here are some pointers for when you are developing mentoring programmes specifically to allow female talent to break through the glass ceiling.

In our initial experience of designing mentoring to develop senior women, the outcomes included one wedding, five promotions, several large pay increases, cosmetic surgery and a bullied mentor! So with the benefit of a number of women only mentoring programmes under our belts, use this checklist when designing a women’s mentoring programme:

Do you need a Sponsor or a Mentor?

Some women’s mentoring programmes actually require and need a positive discrimination angle and specify the mentors are sponsors to the women. We maintain still that a mixture of developmental and sponsorship mentoring provides the most effective basis to support your female talent across most contexts and cultures. However, in some extreme male dominated cultures, it may be necessary to introduce a sharp jolt to the gender balance at senior levels. Put a crack in that ‘Glass Ceiling’ and sponsors be deemed more suitable than introducing mentors.

What programme outcomes are you looking for?

Ensure the mentors and mentees have complete clarity around what you are seeking as outcomes from the programme. Is this a programme to support promotion in a certain time scale? Or are you seeking to retain women if there is a trend for them to become disillusioned at lack of career prospects and exit the organisation? Or is it a women’s mentoring programme designed to develop some of the psychosocial elements, building self-confidence, self esteem and self belief?

Do you have a ‘Glass Ceiling’?

Invite all mentors to attend a workshop, briefing or some form of awareness building session, not only around how to be an effective mentor but also to discuss the issues and challenges found in the internal organisational culture which may create a ‘Glass Ceiling’ to women’s promotion and career prospects. It would be advantageous to work with the female mentees in a similar way and support them to think about the issues they are facing.

It may not just be the overt challenges that women face. Research shows that many of the covert micro signals that women are subjected to are the ones which wear them down over time and demonstrate to them that a career in a man’s world is not for them.

No candle lit dinners please!

Matching can be complicated with senior women role models being scarce. Plus potential mentees might be apprehensive around having a male mentor. Often after the rapport building stage, moving to more virtual communication can develop the trust and closeness in the relationship. This removes some of the distracting visual cues that may impede the development of a greater mental intimacy in a mixed gender relationship. In many global mentoring programmes this tends to be the case anyway. So consider using a virtual element to any mixed gender programme to expedite the rapport building stage.

Have real transparency around the existence of a women’s mentoring programme to avoid gossip. A younger, attractive, junior woman meeting a male senior manager may attract the kind of publicity for the programme that you would prefer not to have! Ensuring mentors and mentees consider what makes a ‘sensible’ and ‘safe’ meeting place is crucial. No candle-lit dinners in women’s mentoring programmes please!

A mentoring champion

It is critical to obtain a senior, credible organisational stakeholder to sponsor, promote and champion the women’s mentoring programme publicly. If this is a male senior leader who is comfortable to advertise and support the programme at all levels, this will help to open the ‘right doors’ for the programme. Having a female senior leader may not work in this role.

Getting engagement and no ‘Queen Bees’

It is also imperative to have mentor and mentee ‘buy in’ to a women only mentoring programme. No recruitment of female ‘Queen Bees’ as mentors, who will simply block their mentee, sometimes in a passive aggressive, quite damaging manner. Or mentees who do not want to engage in a women’s mentoring programme and feel they would prefer to promote their careers without being part of this type of initiative.

What are the issues?

Mentors should be aware of the kind of issues that a woman may have on her agenda. They should be capable and confident of being a sounding board in these mentoring conversations. Topics such as:

  • self-confidence,
  • ambition,
  • work-life balance,
  • building their organisational image and reputation,
  • impact and gravitas,
  • understanding and not falling foul of internal politics and
  • developing their own authentic leadership style

are all subjects which may crop up.

Our experience in women’s mentoring

At Coach Mentoring Ltd we have worked on and continue to work on over 20 women’s mentoring programmes. If you would like advice and guidance on how to support women through mentoring and particularly to develop female talent and crack the ‘Glass Ceiling’, then do get in touch for a conversation.

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