Mentorship has the ability to level the playing field for women in business.
Studies show that people with mentors are more likely to get promoted in the workplace. But currently, a large chasm remains between the number of women beginning on the professional track and the number advancing all the way through to senior positions. So the question remains, “how do we promote more women?” And it’s an important question, because we know that to thrive in this #MeToo landscape, we need to promote more women into the C-Suite.
A study by Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that while nearly 80% of executive women had served as formal mentors, a whopping 63% of working women had never been mentored. The way I see it, mentorship as it stands now needs a modern twist because too many mentorship opportunities are missed. Women either don’t know how to get into the business of mentorship or they simply aren’t meeting the right people. The solution? To scale mentorship.
I didn’t have female mentors in my 20s and it showed.
When life’s hiccups occurred, whether through my personal life dealing with heartbreak, or in my professional life receiving unwanted advances from male executives in my office, I didn’t have a strong female mentor to turn to for guidance. I floundered a bit, not knowing the best way to address these situations without losing my place on a coveted project or team. After trial and error, I made it out the other side, and now it’s time to pay it forward.
Here are the steps you can take to modernize mentorship:
#1 Make mentorship more accessible.
Breaking the glass ceiling requires we disrupt old, patriarchal notions of mentorship. Fight against this long-standing “boy’s club” by not just inviting women into the conversation, but by reaching out to as many women as possible. It’s true everyone needs a mentor, but the Catch 22 is that the people qualified to mentor are faced with finite time and limited energy. Thankfully, mentorship in today’s digital age doesn’t have to be limited to one-on-one, in-person meetings.
One way we’ve combated this at ENTITY is to create a variety of channels to interact with women so we can reach them where they are most comfortable. This includes events for #WomenThatDo, a robust publishing platform, a rapidly growing social community on Facebook and an in-house summer leadership academy. While I understand this may not be an option for most individuals, women looking to avail themselves as mentors can do something as simple as inviting multiple women to “office hours” as opposed to scheduling individual meetings.
That being said, the most important and applicable advice I can give is to stop waiting to be asked. If you want to serve as a mentor, take the first step and offer the opportunity.
#2 Teach your mentees everything you can.
Women have infinite potential; they just need the right tools and education to tap into it. In the current economy, it’s not enough to master one skill. The most competitive workers have multiple marketable skills and experience. Focus on providing your mentees with a breadth of experience, whether in writing and editing, graphic design, video editing, search engine optimization and marketing or all of the above.
Your job as a mentor is more than getting your mentees through one door. The way I see it, you should invite your mentees to the table and allow them the space to contribute to different parts of the business. Yes, they’ll make mistakes along the way; but this will ultimately help them master more tangible skills, leaving them more knowledgeable than when you first met them.
#3 Highlight their strengths.
If no one has ever told you before, mentorship is more than professional development training—it’s also about building self-awareness. I encourage all of my mentees to take a personality test (we have our ENPersonalities Quiz) This process allows women to understand their unique identities so they can work with them, not against them—helping them to maximize their talent to live their best lives.
Encourage your mentees to understand their own default modes. In doing so, they will be empowered to live in their strengths and cognizant of any hurdles they may face that are endemic to their personality types.
#4 Build resiliency.
In the wake of #MeToo, it’s clear many women were forced to stay silent for too long in regards to sexual harassment and sexual assault. A large part of modernizing mentorship is improving upon the past, so it’s imperative when mentoring young women today we face these issues early and head on. Openly discuss how to recognize and how to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. If possible, go through leadership training, mock board meetings and public speaking classes to give women the tools and confidence to take charge and use their voice effectively from Day One.
Overall, strive to teach your mentees how to defend themselves, whether from their own fears and insecurities or from others in the workplace.
#5 Create safe spaces.
Last but not least, don’t forget to create a community. I firmly believe in the power of women supporting women, and encourage you to have more than one mentor for yourself as well. Having multiple mentors gives you varying perspectives and backgrounds to gain from, and a community of trusted friends and advisors is crucial to remaining level-headed, objective, and encouraged.
Throughout the year, if you can teach them nothing else, train women to rely on each other so when they’re dealing with tricky or controversial situations, they have people in their corner that they trust. The modern women shouldn’t feel like they have to compete with each other, there is more than enough room at the top for all of us.
At the end of the day, mentorship is about building deep relationships with your mentees. As a mentor in today’s economy, do what you can to ensure young women walk away feeling more confident in their abilities and themselves.