In the first of our series of blogs for International Women’s Day 2019, here are some ideas to use in briefing male mentors to mentor in a female mentoring programme. Research shows there are pros and cons to using female and male mentors when mentoring your female talent. Some male mentors are just naturally brilliant when mentoring a woman. Others need a little more support to really blossom. Here are some ideas to support them:
1. Encourage honesty in male mentors
The sharing of career and life experiences and telling of stories is so key in successful developmental mentoring. This is strongest when the mentor is demonstrating their more human side, their humility and when things have really gone down the pan badly! Male mentors can find this tough. Admitting to the times in their life when they have messed up badly and really learned from it. However, this is the heart of building trust in a mentoring relationship and where the role-modelling element can be strongest.
Encourage your mentors to be themselves and be honest about their experiences with their mentees.
2. Using challenge appropriately
Encourage male mentors to use challenge but in a ‘brave space’ that is held by them to demonstrate empathy, genuine care and concern and ‘unconditional positive regard’. Don’t let them be afraid of their female mentees and keep an aloof position whilst mentoring. #MeToo has created a situation where some men are now quite nervous about building too intimate a rapport in a mentoring relationship. So creating a robust working relationship in a male mentor/female mentee partnership can sometimes be awkward.
Often virtually mentoring can reduce some of the cues that can cause this anxiety and help the male mentor to feel more relaxed. This is not new knowledge. Hamilton and Scandura in 20021 found that, the reduced level of social cues over electronic media may allow greater opportunities for women and minorities to interact with mentors relatively bias-free. They also acknowledged that women might feel more comfortable having a male mentor working virtually, as their interest will not be misinterpreted in a virtual relationship.
A good mentor knows when to push their mentee outside their comfort zone into the learning zone. Sadly some male mentors ‘overpush’ and their mentees end up in the panic zone and end up cancelling their meetings or avoiding their mentors if they can!
3. Park the power and the ego
Male mentors find it harder to remove the power imbalance in their relationship, than female mentors. Unless you are dealing with a Queen Bee of course!
Without having it pointed out to them, the mentor can have a tendency to:
- Want the mentee to see things from his perspective
- Having his own personal agenda for his mentee
- Feeling pressure to ‘improve’ his mentee in some way
- Allowing the idea of being a mentor to suggest ‘superiority’
We find that the mentor understanding this can happen usually prevents it occurring. Please don’t think that we are suggesting that male mentors are megalomaniacs, but they often have more self-confidence than a female mentor and tend to bring it into their relationships.
4. Reduce the competitiveness
In my experience there is a tremendous amount of competitiveness between male mentors. How much can I achieve for my mentee? Is often a motivation that seems to run through programmes where there are a high proportion of male mentors. The answer is ‘nothing’! The mentees are the ones doing the achieving, if the mentors start to intervene and do it for them, then the relationships rapidly turn into sponsorship mentoring. Educating male mentors to be less competitive about how well their mentee does can be really hard. They can view their mentee’s success as an extension of their own and it is critical to help them understand that if they are in a developmental mentoring relationship this is not acceptable.
Facilitating promotions, opportunities and exposure behind the mentee’s back is not ethical or in the spirit of developmental mentoring.
5. #MeToo and male mentors
With the #MeToo movement exposing the horrific widespread prevalence of sexual harassment and assault globally, I think it is critical to support well intentioned male mentors not to get themselves into any situation that could possibility be misconstrued by a female mentee.
There are some clear ground rules in my mind, which I use when briefing mentors:
- Meet in a public room – coffee shop, hotel lounge, office meeting room if meeting up face-to-face. Not in a hotel room or somewhere private.
- Meeting late in the evening is a ‘no’, even with busy work schedules.
- Having dinner with alcohol is another big ‘no’.
- Do talk about family and home life, this will naturally occur in a mentoring relationship, but always remember this is a professional relationship.
- Be clear on communication in your mentoring agreement. Allowing frequent texting or emailing in a mentoring relationship can be misconstrued and create the wrong type of dependencies.
Gosh there is so much more I could write, but I hope this gives you some ideas for how to brief male mentors effectively about some of the nuances of mentoring women. Male mentors can often be better than their female counterparts in mentoring women. But educate them wisely, as energy and enthusiasm for mentoring can sometimes create the wrong situations.
1 Hamilton, B and Scandura, T. (2002) “Implications for Organisational Learning and Development in a Wired World” In: Organisational Dynamics, volume 31, No 4, pp388-402,
Elsevier Science, Inc.
Enjoyed this article?
Fill in our contact form.