Women leaders are in the midst of a “Great Breakup,” changing jobs at unprecedented rates, according to a 2022 MicKinsey report. With women already lacking leadership representation at U.S. companies— only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of color—this trend should be sounding alarm bells for corporations.
Women leaders are voting with their feet due to barriers that make it more difficult for them to advance than their male colleagues, including microaggressions and a lack of leadership development and sponsorship. Women aren’t afraid to leave current jobs for workplaces that offer more support and opportunities, and they are making it clear that flexible work and a diverse environment are crucial for them. For younger generations of upcoming women leaders, working in an inclusive environment where they can thrive is even a higher priority.
Employers who don’t devote resources to women in the workplace are missing a large opportunity to develop their human capital. Companies that don’t take steps to cultivate women leaders will find their most talented women leaders leaving for greener pastures where they get the respect, attention and equal playing field they deserve.
Mentoring—where senior employees act as trusted advisors to women employees and help them advance their careers—is a potent tool that businesses can employ to develop women leaders within their ranks and help stem the tide of exits by existing women leaders. Mentors can help guide women through their toughest challenges and achieve advancement in complex environments.
However, one in five women say they’ve never had a mentor in the workplace, according to LinkedIn. 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; they hurt 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.
Benefits of Mentoring Women for Leadership Positions
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. Mentorship is highly important in helping to advance and grow their careers, 67 percent of women said in a global DDI study. Here are some benefits that mentorship programs can provide for women
Increased representation of women in leadership
Mentoring offers potential women leaders the guidance, support and sponsorship they need to help them overcome obstacles, gain confidence and make the right moves to get to the next level … and to keep moving up. This is particularly important to fix the “broken rung”—the first step on the corporate ladder from entry level to management. For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level roles to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, according to McKinsey—and women never catch up from that first step. Mentoring can help.
Greater organizational success and innovation
Companies without equitable representation at the leadership level are basically leaving some of their best talent on the bench. Mentoring can help more women leaders into the game. This kind of gender diversity contributes to economic success, and having a wide variety of experiences, points of view and ways of thinking are all crucial for fostering innovation, from entry level to the C suite.
Encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Mentorship for women leaders fosters diversity and inclusion by providing formal development opportunities to those who may not otherwise receive them. Diversity and inclusion can be further encouraged by mentoring specifically designed for particular populations, such as BIPOC and LBGT+, as well as group formats including Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and mentoring circles.
Personal and professional growth for both mentor and mentee
Mentoring isn’t a one-way street; both mentors and mentees benefit. 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.
Qualities of Effective Mentors for Women
Good mentors have certain qualities in common that make their mentoring more effective. One of the most important qualities is the willingness to actively listen to mentees. Mentoring needs to be personal, so mentors need to really listen to the mentee’s personal unique situation so they can provide relevant guidance.
Mentors also need to be able to share experiences and insights. Mentoring is all about the mentee learning from the earned wisdom of a senior person, so it’s important for the mentor to be able to illustrate potential solutions based on real-life experiences and lessons learned.
Mentees also need empathy from their mentors. Mentees should feel that they can trust their mentor with their struggles and vulnerabilities and feel understood and supported. Mentors should combine that empathy with positive encouragement. Mentors should work to help mentees feel confident in their ability to try new things and keep pushing forward.
Accountability and honest feedback is also important for mentors. While mentors should empathize and encourage, they also owe it to their mentees to let them know when they make mistakes or could do something differently next time. Mentors need to hold mentees accountable so they can continue to grow.
Best Practices for Mentoring Women for Leadership
Mentoring for women leaders will be more effective by following best practices. These can include:
- Setting clear goals and expectations: Both mentors and mentees should be on the same page about their roles and responsibilities, what they are trying to accomplish and how that will be measured.
- Establishing regular communication/check-ins: Before mentoring starts, mentors and mentees should agree on how often they will meet and communicate, and what channel works best for both for effective communication.
- Focusing on both personal and professional development: While the main aim of mentoring is professional development, that can’t happen without personal development, so mentoring needs to address both. Establishing mentoring goals within a relationship helps both mentors and mentees stay focused on what they want to accomplish.
- Encouraging mentees to take on leadership opportunities: Learning about leadership is important, but leadership is a skill that needs to be practiced, so mentees need to put it to use in real-world situations.
- Creating a culture of mentorship and support in the workplace: Within the organization, it should be clear that mentoring is a priority that is fully supported by leadership, and the culture should reflect this value.
Challenges and Solutions for Mentoring Women for Leadership Positions
Mentoring women for leadership positions isn’t always easy. Finding the right match between mentors and mentees can be a challenge, and participants can struggle if their roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly defined. Mentors may not have much experience with mentoring and can have a hard time fitting mentoring into their busy schedules.
Mentoring software such as Chronus can help overcome these challenges. Automated matching programs can facilitate successful mentorship pairings while reducing the administrative load for program managers. Software can also provide an easy-to-use interface for communication as well as guidance for what to expect and what comes next in the mentorship journey. The structure that software offers can help keep participants on track and moving forward in the mentoring relationship. Software can also facilitate training so that participants are more prepared to take full advantage of mentoring opportunities.
How to Attract Women Mentors
The first step is establishing a program for women or one that is set on recruiting women to participate! 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.
Invest in Your Women Mentors & Mentees Today
Attracting and keeping the best talent is critical for 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. Mentorships for women leaders is key for creating this environment so that more women will rise to the top ranks and want to stay with the organization.
Chronus mentoring software offers automation, customization and structure that empowers your organization to make the most of mentorships for women leaders. Chronus offers a platform that offers all the features you need to optimize your mentoring programs, while providing options so you can tailor your program to your unique needs. Chronus helps you build successful mentoring relationships with automation that guides your mentorship participants at every step.
Learn more about how Chronus can help you develop and retain top women leaders.