A push for equality through mentoring

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Written by Laura Francis on 22 August 2019

Reading time: 3m 30s.

When formal corporate mentoring programs gained popularity in the 80s, the focus was on getting more women into leadership roles and creating better equality in the workplace. So how are we doing nearly 40 years later?

Catalyst released a report in January 2019 called the Missing Pieces Report, in which they showed that women made up 22.5% of Fortune 500 boards in 2018. To be fair, this was a modest increase from the reported 15.7% of female board members for Fortune 500 companies in 2004, but a 6.8% increase over the course of 14 years is more disheartening than cause for celebration.

And as has been widely reported, in early 2019 LeanIn.org conducted their first workplace survey since the #MeToo movement, and the results are not good.

40% of male managers in the U.K. and 60% of male managers in the U.S. are afraid to be alone with a woman in typical workplace activity, such as mentoring, working alone, or socialising together. That is a 33% and 32% increase from the previous year respectively.

Rather than shy away from mentoring, we should be pushing to bring more equality into our mentoring programs and mentoring relationships

These are horrendous statistics. The old adage of  'one step forward, two steps back' feels very appropriate here.

Rather than shy away from mentoring, we should be pushing to bring more equality into our mentoring programs and mentoring relationships so that everyone can have the chance to learn and develop new skills.

When people have access to mentoring, they often have access to organisational leaders who take on the role of mentor. They also have access to learning opportunities where they can push themselves, and where they may subsequently have exposure to key stakeholders through new stretch assignments and networking connections.

When it comes right down to it, equality in mentoring relationships can lead to greater levels of diversity and inclusion in leadership roles and organizations in general.

Don’t assume women simply—nor solely—want female mentors. Rather, you should provide women with a diverse pool of mentors to choose from so that they can address their development needs in the most appropriate and effective manner. To help organizations tackle inequality, consider these three ways to use mentoring to help elevate female employees.


Enable connections in your talent pipeline via formal mentoring

The path to the C-suite is often about who you know. Help your talented female employees make the connections they need to succeed and advance within your organisation.

Offer them access to mentoring partnerships where they can cultivate relationships and gain knowledge that will be critical to their growth and success. If it’s all about who you know, then help your female employees expand their networks.

Draw attention to young talent through reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring is a great way to help young women within your organisation make themselves known to senior leaders. Have your young talent act as mentors to the more senior employees in structured reverse mentoring relationships.

This helps the younger employees gain access to and exposure to critical contacts within leadership, which can impact their career path (not to mention help create a more equitable leadership pipeline for your organisation).

It also helps your senior leaders hear from these young, talented people in your organisation and hopefully begin to understand their perspectives on issues affecting the company specifically and the world at large.

Support leadership training with group mentoring

Conventional wisdom states that the higher you rise in leadership roles, the more isolated you tend to feel. Leaders often lack peer support as they climb the ranks. Alleviate this problem by offering group mentoring to your female leaders.

Help them connect with peers and others who are navigating a similar path, providing them with a way to build a support network that they can learn from and lean on. You can even help your leaders reduce stress via mentoring, as a recent Harvard Business Review article showed.

These three ideas on how to use mentoring to support your female employees are just the starting point. There are many more ways to leverage mentoring for leadership, diversity, onboarding, succession planning, and more.

Instead of saying we won’t mentor someone because she is a woman, I hope we will all start to say yes to mentoring opportunities from a wide variety of colleagues regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and any other barriers isolating us.


About the author

Laura Francis is chief knowledge officer for River, a mentoring software company based in Denver.

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