In the last two decades, many employers have shown enthusiastic commitment to gender diversity. Women have made enormous strides in being able to compete on the same playing field as men at work. This is where initiatives such as mentoring and sponsor programmes have been really successful in helping erode this gender imbalance and create more gender equity. Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. All the research strongly confirms this as being an important factor in developing more women leaders. So let us consider:
- What are the outcomes from introducing mentoring for women into your organisation?
- The outcomes of mentoring which support gender equity for women.
- And what is different about female talent mentoring today?
1. Outcomes for your organisation
Mentoring creates gender equity and increases the number of female leaders in more senior positions; the two major objectives of most programmes to support these outcomes are:
- To stop holding female leaders up to a higher standard than men
- To update the out-dated business leader stereotype
Finding a way to support women and men to internalise their own leadership identity is key. However, this can be very challenging for women, particularly if they are operating in a culture that is unconsciously conflicted about how they should behave and exercise their authority. There is a human tendency to move towards a person like yourself. This creates a culture of senior men sponsoring and becoming advocates for other men when leadership opportunities arise. If a woman demonstrates less conventional leadership potential, this may not be recognised by the prevailing culture. Without discriminatory intent, a very subtle ‘second generation’ form of gender bias can block women’s bid for leadership. Mentoring can help to erode these issues. A well-designed programme will articulate these intended outcomes upfront making all participants aware and engaged and support more gender equity in your workplace.
2. And outcomes from the female talent perspective
An effective mentoring programme will emphasis that women get the mentoring support to encourage them to:
- Put their hand up for stretch assignments.
- Push themselves out of their comfort zone.
- Get their boss to talk to them.
- Not feel bullied by ‘presenteeism’.
- Feel comfortable in displaying vertical ambition motivation.
- Apply for jobs even if they don’t have all the competences.
- Get that role model to help them!
All factors which enable women to be treated fairly and addresses their needs.
3. So what is different about female talent mentoring today?
Mentoring designed for women talent is far more focused and sophisticated in its design than it was 5 to 10 years ago. Programmes are usually part of a wider strategy to support women and have much clearer outcomes articulated, or are built within an overall talent programme and have the removal of gender bias as a key objective from the start. The ‘gender education’ of the mentor is seen as an explicit goal in many ‘women only’ programmes, with reverse mentoring being expected as an outcome within the senior leader, more junior woman relationship.
Changing structural societal inequalities and attitudes won’t happen overnight. As a woman assesses her career goals and own view of ambition and desire for power in the workplace, she has to decide how much of the conflict and stress that may come with developing her career, she is willing to put up with. However, having a mentor (or mentors) means that she has a safe space and professional friend to work all this through with. If that mentor and the organisation have a clear focus and awareness of the issues involved in supporting her effectively in her journey, then you will have a very robust programme in place to support your female talent and create more gender equity!
Since 2000, Lis Merrick has been focusing on designing and developing mentoring programmes to support women through the glass ceiling, in talent management programmes, in particularly male dominated environments and through maternity leave and returning to work. Some of these programmes have included elements of sponsorship, utilisation of both male and female role model mentors and an organised networking component.
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