Workplace Equality Improves When Women Mentor Men
A recent study from Concordia University revealed that mentoring often helps the mentor as much as the mentee. This is largely due to the leadership skills the mentors gain through the activity.
The authors suggest that the more mentors actually provided mentoring support, the more they saw themselves as leaders. What’s more, they also gained confidence in their leadership capabilities. As such, the researchers believe that mentoring can be a crucial tool in improving the leadership capabilities of people, especially if they haven’t yet received any practical leadership experience.
Research from the University of Michigan suggests that mentoring may also have benefits in terms of enhancing gender equality at work. The study argues that when female executives mentor men it helps to remedy inequality at work.
As the Concordia research revealed, we traditionally view the mentoring relationship as one in which all of the value goes to the (often) junior colleague who is receiving advice and support from a senior peer. Just as they found that mentoring provides key leadership value to the mentors themselves, so too did the Michigan research reveal a widespread series of benefits to both the mentors themselves and society more broadly.
“We’re hoping that if we encourage more women mentoring men, maybe we can generate more empathy, more cooperation and just more willingness to see each other as people and to work for everybody’s success,” the researchers explain.
The authors highlight how while the #MeToo movement has brought many things regarding sexual harassment out into the open, it has also led many men to shy away from working with women. They believe that #MeToo has significantly helped to raise awareness of inequality at work, but it hasn’t done much to actually change things.
The research revolves around a concept the researchers refer to as “cooperative interaction”, which requires all parties to be willing to be engaged with the ideas of other people. This, the researchers believe, is therefore crucial to getting the kind of diverse teams that have been so well documented to boost innovation, productivity, and creativity.
The paper highlights that the benefits of mentorship for women has been widely explored, but they worry that there comes a point when women simply run out of people senior to them who can mentor them. At that point, you’re kind of on your own.
The idea is that women who have climbed to senior roles could then mentor more junior men within their organization. Through this, they could help to share leadership behaviors that are non-gender specific, all the while giving the men the opportunity to work with senior women, learning about their working style and even the kind of barriers women face at work.
Starting from a low base
Such mentoring relationships are not, however, common, but the authors highlight the work being done at the corporate mentoring firm Menttium who have been making these cross-gender mentoring pairings in a pilot experiment.
Early evidence from these experiments suggests that they’re working, with the participants revealing that they’re gaining a significant amount from the program. Indeed, many of the men have said they have gained a new awareness of what women go through at work.
Obviously, one particular barrier to achieving this kind of arrangement is the lack of women in senior leadership positions. Adding mentoring to what is likely to be a full plate might also stretch them very thin.
Online or offline
We’re also in a strange place with regards to the pandemic, with many teams working remotely. Research a few years ago from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business found that mentoring tended to work best for women when it was conducted face-to-face rather than online.
Granted, the study was primarily looking at the traditional mentoring relationship of a low-status woman being mentored by a higher-status colleague, through which the visibility face-to-face encounters provided proved valuable, but the findings do nonetheless remind us that the current period does require us to think of the implications of our new ways of working.
Research published last year by Cambridge’s Judge Business School highlights the importance of the right gender mix in our organizations.
“In sum, the equal infusion of men’s and women’s social-role proclivities in top management teams, enabled by gender diversity, will foster psychological safety that characterizes both mutual trust and support, and interpersonal risk-taking to openly speak up,” they explain.
A second study from the school also shows that these gender diverse teams are also strong during a crisis, with the psychological safety mentioned in the previous paper also proving hugely important during the kind of crises we’re experiencing today.
With mentoring also appearing to boost that awareness and psychological safety, it’s perhaps time for organizations to encourage and even prioritize the kind of mentoring relationships outlined by the Michigan team. We all might be better for it.