Men Mentoring Women in the Age of #MeToo
By Jennifer Brown, CEO & Founder, Jennifer Brown Consulting

A person in a blue shirt  Description generated with very high confidence Mentorship and sponsorship make the biggest difference to the workplace success of women and other underrepresented talent. We need those who hold the purse strings and the power. We need allies who have a voice and are motivated to use it on our behalf. We need leaders to advocate for us and open doors for us. We need the majority—who, when we’re talking about company leaders, are most often men—if we want to advance and succeed.

Men need women, too. According to a research article by Cristian L. Dezsö and David Gaddis Ross, when companies introduced women into their top management teams between 1992 and 2006, they generated an average of 1% more economic value, which was typically more than $40 million. The Anita Borg Institute reported that 500 companies with at least three female directors saw their return on invested capital increase by at least 66% and their sales increase by 42%. Companies are better off when they have women at the top.

Yet, Lean In and McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2017 report found that women are less likely to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on how to advance. And women remain outnumbered in leadership roles, despite earning the majority of degrees and making up a large population of the workforce.

Mentoring and sponsoring women has never been widespread, and now there is a real danger that it might become less so. Panic surrounding recent headlines about the #MeToo movement means men may grow more self-conscious about having the honest conversations that women, and other diverse talent, so desperately need and are not currently privy to. Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and the COO of Facebook, wrote in a lengthy Facebook post:

Over the last two months, every day has seemed to bring new allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men, who are facing real consequences for their actions. And people are already saying, “This is why you shouldn’t hire women.” Actually, this is why you should.

Men pulling away from mentorship and sponsorship is the opposite of what should be happening right now. More than ever, we need male leaders to lean in and truly commit to supporting and advancing women and other underrepresented talent, in order to shift the challenges that so many of us face in terms of building our career and moving up to the C-suite. Many are looking at the #MeToo movement as a wake-up call, because they want to role-model a different response.

Certain cutting-edge companies have vocalized their commitment to doing so, but the numbers of mentor/mentee pairs that exist in the corporate world is tiny when we look at it as a percentage of the total population at work. On the other hand, I don't see many organizations and individuals slowing down at all. The people and companies who have committed to this work are still committed to it. They are steadfast. They are pushing forward. They are working to navigate this situation.

Women can do a lot of heavy lifting in this conversation, but there are men who are leaning in, who are saying, “Now more than ever, this is what a male ally looks like.” We need to support those men, highlight them, and talk about them. We need to get used to the idea that a great male leader is the same leader who is leaning in to conversations surrounding the #MeToo movement and is not afraid to have them. This effort is reassuring, because men watch other men for cues about what is acceptable.

If you are one of those great male leaders, talk openly and honestly to your mentees about what might be helping them or getting in their way. At the same time, don’t put the onus on them to educate you. Do your homework and understand that while you can’t mentor everyone in the same way, you can do everything in your power to come armed with the facts.

In a male-dominated business world, so much mentoring happens in informal social settings, after work or on weekends. To safeguard the relationship, senior male mentors should monitor whom they’re making time to mentor, and when, and make it a priority to ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe. If you notice yourself giving feedback at certain times, or offering opportunities in a casual setting, notice who's missing from the conversation, whether that’s because of the time of day, or the physical location. Maybe women were invited, but weren’t able to participate, or weren’t comfortable participating. Do your mentoring in public places and do it across the board.

We need to task senior female leaders in the same way as senior male leaders. Any leader should have a healthy respect for investing in underrepresented up-and-coming talent. The need for safety is a universal one. When you are the one with the power, you have a responsibility to think three steps ahead—regardless of your own gender or identity.

About Jennifer Brown
Jennifer Brown is a leading diversity and inclusion expert, dynamic keynote speaker, best-selling author of the book Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change, award-winning entrepreneur and host of The Will to Change podcast which uncovers true stories of diversity and inclusion.




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