Why mentor women?
Nowadays the deliberate exclusion of women from job opportunities and career progression is illegal. However, the more subtle ‘second-generation’ forms of gender bias are attributed to the continuing underrepresentation of women in leadership roles in many sectors and industries.
This bias is attributed to more invisible forms of cultural assumptions and practices that inadvertently benefit men, whilst putting women at a disadvantage. It can be as basic as there being a paucity of female role models or as complicated as the offer of an exciting international assignment, which can assume a ‘trailing partner’ who has no career and can easily move. A role usually attributed to a female partner rather than a male. Second-generation bias does not mean to create direct harm to an individual, but instead it creates a culture where women fail to really thrive or to fulfil their full potential.When women recognise the subtle effects of second-generation bias they tend to take action to counter the impact. Behaviours such as putting themselves forward for a role, even when they don’t feel qualified, or reaching out and finding a mentor are all behaviours, which make it easier for a woman to ‘lean in’ to quote Sheryl Sandberg. Organisations can really support their female employees by developing more formal mentoring programmes to support them in realising their potential fully.
Experts in Mentoring Women
Since 2000, Lis Merrick and Jacki Mason have been focusing on designing and developing mentoring programmes to support women through the glass ceiling, in talent management programmes, in male dominated environments and through maternity leave and returning to work. Some of these programmes have included elements of sponsorship, utilisation of male and female role model mentors and an organised networking component.
We have found that having a baby represents a significant turning point as women re-evaluate work, career and life choices in the context of new and previously unimagined priorities.
Both research and our own practice shows there is value in organisations supporting women as they become mothers and that the quality of intervention can influence the transition into parenthood. Organisations can improve retention rates by offering mentoring to ease the return to the workplace post maternity and where mentoring is designed to catch women at key transition points in their careers, it gives them greater self confidence in their competence and potential.