Companies need to close the gender pay gap to perform at the highest caliber. According to research by MicKinsey & Company, companies with greater gender diversity at the executive level (more than 30 percent women) are more likely to outperform their less gender diverse counterparts. Diverse companies are also known to be more innovative and creative.
But companies who want to improve their gender diversity need an intentional strategy to hire, develop, and retain talented women employees. This is especially important when it comes to improving diversity at the top. Senior and experienced women employees are unlikely to want to stay at a company that pays them less than their male counterparts, and doesn’t provide opportunity for learning, growth, and career progression.
Companies have made inroads toward gender diversity in recent years, but there is still a long way to go. And as the pandemic caused around 2 million women to consider leaving the workplace or reducing their workload, companies need to be intentional and put systems and policies in place if they want to retain (and attract) talented female employees.
Developing a meaningful mentorship program for women can go a long way in doing just that. According to research published in the Academy of Management Journal, career development for women is tied more to attachment and relationships. In contrast, career development for men means increased autonomy and separation from others.
Mentoring in the workplace allows mentees to engage in experiential learning, so they can apply concepts immediately and help them to understand and adopt new skills. This can lead to better employee engagement over time, making them more likely to remain loyal to the company and potentially attract more talented women to join your organization.
Traditionally, mentoring means a formal and structured one-on-one relationship between a junior and senior employee. But with the addition of technological innovation, mentoring has moved on beyond that. Now, there are formats and arrangements that allow employees of the modern workplace to drive their own development while creating a highly scalable model for organizations.
Read on to learn more about why it benefits your company to institute workplace mentoring programs for women, examples of the different types of mentoring models that you can potentially adopt in your organization, and what a successful mentoring program looks like.
The following types of mentoring programs can help strengthen your talent pipeline:
Mentoring circles is a peer-to-peer format—often across departments and functions in an organization—where employees can gather as a group, share resources and lend support around common personal experiences or professional ambitions and pursuits. Circle leaders designate the desired number of participants, set expectations for how, when, and why the circle will meet, and put their proposed circle on a “marketplace.”
There are many advantages to mentoring circles—first, it allows employees to network with people at their company they may not normally interact or work with. It’s also an excellent opportunity for employees to upskill on an as-needed basis and connect with leaders of various expertise and divisions. Mentoring circles are also a great way for women employees to connect and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of gender parity within the organization, illuminating areas in need of improvement.
High-potential mentoring for women targets promising employees and pairs them with mentors who can help them develop their skills and advance in the organization. The goal is to strengthen the leadership pipeline from within, and equip women with the necessary skills and experiences to take up future leadership positions.
These programs pair new hires with experienced employees to provide support during the critical first few weeks of employment and develop relationships that last beyond the onboarding period. These programs can help to create a sense of belonging earlier on in an employee’s tenure and provide a source of support.
Reverse mentoring provides a framework for junior employees to share their insight with higher-ups while ensuring that women have the opportunity to develop connections with senior staff. This can be a valuable format, especially with regards to DEI initiatives. Using reverse mentoring best practices, this format can break down stereotypes by giving both mentors and mentees the chance to get to know each other as real people. And it fosters cross-organization networks and connections.
Reverse mentoring also encourages an exchange of ideas, and younger employees can provide fresh and unique perspectives and offer advice on company policy, processes and culture that can help move the company forward.
Companies that make gender diversity and inclusion a priority have a lot to gain. Anita Woolley and Thomas W. Malone from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study in 2011 that gathered subjects, gave each of them an intelligence test, and randomly assigned them to teams. Each team had to complete several tasks—visual puzzles, brainstorming, and decision-making—to solve a complex problem. The teams were scored based on their task performance.
They found that the most successful teams had more women on them. Researchers discovered that “when women made up more than 50 percent of a team, the team’s collective intelligence rose above average.” Gender diverse groups provide varied points of view, which make for better decision-making, which in turn creates more innovative and impactful teams.
These benefits ultimately have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. A 2019 study by McKinsey found that companies that had more women in leadership positions were more likely to have above-average profits compared to companies whose executive teams were less gender diverse.
This is where mentoring can help. Companies who take the time to implement a mentoring program for women will reap the following benefits:
Mentoring programs provide a great framework for women to develop their skills and learn new ones. Employees are much more likely to stay at an organization that provides learning opportunities, and employers get the benefit of having workers that are constantly upskilling and finding ways to be better in their roles.
In addition to employee satisfaction, employees who have friends at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their work. Engaged employees means higher levels of productivity, which ultimately results in a higher bottom line.
Engaged employees are less likely to burn out and leave the company, and more likely to recommend working at the company to others. Mentorship can help companies retain employees in the long-term, as well as attract additional talent.
Lastly, mentorship provides employees who identify as women with the support and resources at all stages of their career development. When employees feel supported by their employers, they’re more inclined to be loyal and find ways to grow within the company.
Women continue to be under-represented at all levels of management. Despite making up 48% of entry level-hires, they constitute just 38% of first-level managers.
These statistics show that women fall behind in promotions early. That’s why getting them engaged and building skills and networks as early as possible is crucial. Whether new hires or existing employees, there’s no need to wait until women reach a certain level before mentoring can be of value.
In a study by global leadership firm DDI, 67% of women rated mentorship as very important in their career, yet 63% of women surveyed said that they’ve never had a mentor.
Why is this? Many reports point to women asking for mentorship less than men. Perhaps women are reluctant to do so because they aren’t sure how to find a mentor in the first place. Or perhaps they are wary of the response they might receive if they do raise their hands.
This lack of involvement can increase as women move into the later stages of their careers, but formal mentoring programs can give women access to influential peers early on. Formal mentoring programs, or company-sponsored programs with designated mentor pools and facilitated relationships break down silos and ease the connection process.
Mentoring women reminds them that their career development is vital to their employer and can help women progress through the mid-career drop-off and into leadership positions.
To excel within their careers and through the mid-career marathon, women (unfortunately) will have to challenge and overcome obstacles and preconceptions to crack the glass ceiling. Mentoring can be a space to discuss how they can approach these matters head-on (and do so confidently).
Here are some of the critical skills and objectives that a women’s mentorship program should aim to tackle:
Making initial connections and building a network within a new job or industry can be overwhelming with little instruction on where to start—especially within male-dominated sectors such as science, engineering, or technology.
Mentoring relationships can break down barriers, allowing mentees to approach mentors irrespective of gender, seniority, or function. It also connects women to executives who can guide them through the skills and connections they’ll need to advance in their careers.
Negotiating can be difficult for anyone. The good news is women in the workplace are negotiating for promotions just as much as men. But despite this, women are, on average, less likely to be promoted than men.
Mentoring allows for an open discussion around this topic that can empower women to be more prepared at the negotiating table and help an organization review its own policies and personal reactions when it comes to negotiating with men and women.
This discussion can alert co-workers and leadership to any potential bias within themselves or the organization that needs to be reviewed. Mentoring also promotes skill development in this area, allowing women to hone successful tactics for approach from both male and female co-workers.
Constructive feedback is something all employees should receive regularly. But Stanford professors Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard found women are less likely to receive explicit feedback related to outcomes.
Poor specificity leaves women questioning what it was about their actions that was liked or disliked. It can stunt a women’s progression when review time comes around. “Vague feedback is correlated with lower performance review ratings for women—but not for men. In other words, vague feedback can hold women back,” Correll said.
Mentoring provides regular intervals of feedback between mentor and mentee. Consistent interactions allow women to be better prepared to handle ambiguous feedback.
Creating greater gender diversity within your organization is within reach. But if you want to implement any type of change or improvement, you need to reflect on current practices and establish new initiatives to move your organization forward.
Organizations can unlock this talent pipeline with the right strategy and programs that support women in building the skills and knowledge needed to elevate to the next level.
Mentoring women provides the key to this strategy. Robust, formal and structured mentoring programs support the women in your workplace, making them feel engaged, productive, and overall encouraged to seek more.