Mentors often guide us through some of our toughest challenges and help us achieve advancement in sometimes complex environments. However, according to LinkedIn’s Nicole Williams, one in five women say they’ve never had a mentor in the workplace. This should be concerning to employers. In many sectors, especially in tech and finance, women face additional challenges moving up the ladder. Mentorship is key to both retaining and developing women as executives and in leadership positions.
The Benefits of Mentoring Women for Leadership
In general, mentoring is an effective way to nurture the talent within your ranks. Mentored employees advance faster, are more productive, and are better accustomed to navigating the company’s culture.
Because women represent more than 46 percent of the labor force in the United States (and that number is climbing), employers who don’t devote resources to women in the workplace are missing a large opportunity to develop their human capital. Women can and do bring unique perspectives to the table, and this diversity is key to healthy business.
Why Mentoring Programs Are Important for Women Mentees
Informal mentorship in the workplace can sometimes be hard for women to tap into, especially with male-dominated work cultures. Women can easily find themselves adrift, trying their best to advance their careers but bereft of integral “inside” knowledge that would empower them to be their most effective.
All of these issues don’t just negatively impact women, but ultimately the company’s bottom line. To counteract this, many companies have instituted formal mentoring programs that either target high potential women specifically, or otherwise minimize bias by establishing mentoring relationships. At least as far back as 2007, over 71% of Fortune 500 companies have instituted formal mentoring programs.
The Advantages for Women Mentors
Mentoring isn’t a one-way street, with benefits that only apply to mentees. It’s often said the best way to learn is by teaching, and this can be applied to mentoring as well. By mentoring others, women in senior positions can further develop their own communication, management style, and people-savvy skills. In short, it helps them become better leaders.
In addition, there are fewer feelings of isolation and less pressure on individual women to be paragons for their gender if more women find their way into senior leadership positions. As of December 2015, only 4.2 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies were filled by women. Women in executive leadership have an especially vested stake in filling the pipeline with talented up-and-comers.
How to Attract Women Mentors
The first step is having a program! Assuming you have a program, here are some tips for encouraging more women to participate:
- Use welcoming language. Language that specifically invites women to your program signals that they’re truly wanted. Women will often opt out of environments that are perceived to be hostile, threatening, or even just “not for them.”
- Or, create a program that specifically targets women. Whether it’s a high potential program or a subprogram geared specifically towards women, such initiatives allow you to better serve particular needs.
- Tap individual women to participate. Much like using inviting language in company communications, directly reaching out to women is highly effective to signal they are truly wanted in the program.
- Make programs Opt In. Don’t force people into relationships they may not be ready for. Not only does this waste resources that could be better spent on people who really want to make the investment, but it can lead to bad feelings all around.
- Ensure women can trust their mentor. Give women the option to choose whether they want a male or female mentoring partner. Building trust is integral to a mentor-mentee relationship, and women need to feel comfortable with their partner.
- Collect and listen to feedback, especially from previous mentoring relationships. Making a sincere effort to dial in your program will result in a better experience for participants.
- Showcase successful graduates. Increasing the visibility of previous participants who have since advanced is one of the best ways to attract new participants.
At the end of the day, attracting and keeping the best talent is what’s important to institutions that depend on their human capital. If women perceive they have a place and a path to success, they’ll be more likely to not only stick around but also invest in the success of others.
As the marketplace becomes more competitive in providing opportunities for women, many companies will want to avoid being left behind. For more information, watch the full webinar with Julie Kantor, “Elevating Women in the Workplace”.