Mentorship is a practice that has helped countless executives make their way to high-level positions, with senior leaders as advisers and allies. Women can especially benefit from mentoring as they seek to overcome traditional barriers to the leadership pipeline. But research shows, women often don’t engage in mentoring at the same rates as men – either because they are unsure who to approach or mentoring accessibility is limited or informal.
Women have also been disproportionately affected by pandemic, losing jobs or leaving the workforce due to competing priorities and needs on the home front. Mentoring can provide a crucial on-ramp for them to return to the workforce and continue to advance. By building mentoring programs that actively seek out and engage women participants, companies can realize many benefits for both individual employees and the organization as a whole.
Benefits of mentorship programs for women
Women and organizations can see the impacts of mentoring on personal goals, as well as organizational objectives.
It’s been proven that gender diversity contributes to economic success. Additionally, studies have found gender diversity relates to more productive companies, as measured by market value and revenue. Women mentorship programs help foster that diversity by providing women with the support they need to reach their full potential.
According to a global DDI study, 67 percent of women rate mentorship as highly important in helping to advance and grow their careers. Mentoring for women helps retain institutional knowledge, combat institutional silos, and increases worker engagement while reducing turnover.
Intentionally including women in your organization’s mentoring culture, builds your mentoring pool of participants, while demonstrating more equitability in your development programs. Studies show, women leaders are also more likely than men to mentor and sponsor others. Whether you have, women mentoring men, women mentoring women or men mentoring women, diverse pairings and participants will build an inclusive culture around the practice of mentoring.
Obstacles of informal mentoring for women
Creating a formal mentorship program is critical for success in mentoring for women. According to the DDI study, 63 percent of women reported that they have never had a formal mentor — and in many cases, women are not being asked to provide mentorship. Having a structured mentoring program in place makes mentoring opportunities much more visible to women and makes it easier for them to get involved.
In organizations with formal programs, half of all women have had a formal mentor, according to the DDI study. In organizations that do not have such programs, only 25 percent of women had a formal mentor.
Tips for mentorship programs for women
Here are a few tips to remember when creating mentoring programs for women or engaging in a mentoring relationship with female employees.
Provide mentorship training
Training for mentors is key. While some people have a natural knack for mentoring, all mentors can use help to build their skills and learn tried-and tested techniques. Giving mentors and mentees frameworks for having conversations and establishing goals can help participants be more productive.
In addition, providing guidance on how to discuss sensitive topics within your training will illustrate how to approach certain subjects with a mentoring partner. It will also help to expose unconscious biases within mentoring participants that they dispel or work through over the course of the relationship. For example, if you’re not sure about whether you should discuss a topic with your female mentoring partner, ask permission to ask.
Make sure it’s a match
Not every mentor is right for every mentee, and vice versa. A great match means both parties are engaged and can build trust, critical elements in successful mentorship. Identify the right matching criteria for your organization, based on what mentees find important – skills, tenure, institutional knowledge, etc.
An AI-powered matching algorithm system can increase the chances of successful matches while reducing the workload for administrators. This provides more chances for women to connect with a helpful mentor and reap the full benefits of mentorship.
Mentoring programs for both men and women are more effective when mentors and mentees know what is expected of them and have access to resources that can help them make the most of mentoring. Programs should establish clear protocols for communication, technology used to help keep mentorships on track, and accountability—along with built-in flexibility to allow mentors and mentees the opportunity to do what works for them.
Guide, don’t instruct
Rather than offer step-by-step instruction, an effective mentor provides an outside perspective and support. Mentors don’t need to know all the answers, but they do need to ask smart questions—and this conversation is key.
Especially in regard to men mentoring women, authors David Smith and Brad Johnson remind participants to avoid assumptions and beware of “benevolent sexism” – the idea that a woman will need to be saved by mentor advice and instructions. Instead, try the following:
- ask questions
- clarify what was heard
- provide suggestions or feedback where requested or necessary
Making strides with mentorship for women
For companies committed to helping their female employees thrive, mentorship for women offers a proven route to achieving real results. Making mentorship an integral part of company culture is one step toward ensuring important opportunities for women and achieving change.