6 Top Tips For Mentoring Women
These tips are for men who mentor women, but many apply for woman-to-woman mentoring as well.
1. Code of conduct
For any cross-gender mentoring partnership, let it be known you are in a formal mentoring relationship, preferably as part of a structured program with a clear code of conduct.
2. Understanding stereotype and gender dynamics
Seek to understand your culture’s dominant leadership stereotype and gender dynamics. For example, the heroic leader in Australia is stoic, courageous and capable, able to respond to relentless demands to do a job that is barely do-able. Women who do not fit this mould can feel marginalised. They feel pressure to conform in an environment where women are subtly or, not so subtly, sexualised. They may lack support from family and friends for pursuing a high-level corporate job and they almost certainly don’t have the kind of support at home that men enjoy. These are some of the real obstacles for many women. Make sure you seek to learn about what it’s like for the woman you are mentoring, be curious and ask questions rather than make assumptions.
3. Motives and biases
Examine your own motives and biases. You may enjoy and feel flattered by guiding a younger woman’s career – beware the unconscious move to a father-daughter relationship within which you hold the power and the woman cannot grow and move on. Closely look at your own leadership stereotypes and gender biases – how do you expect women to behave in the workplace and are you (even ever so slightly) threatened by the idea of women holding and exercising power?
4. Encourage leadership
Women can under-value their contributions and potential. Mentors can assist by helping women define their eligibility for leadership. Encourage them to try new things or act on opportunities and actively seek to nourish their self-confidence. Help them to see their strengths.
5. Professional boundaries
Maintain professional boundaries to avoid the innuendo and sexualisation that can occur, especially when women enter male cultures. Meet in public, choose time of day and environment wisely (for example, opt for a cafe breakfast meeting rather than meeting in a darkened bar after work).
6. Avoid giving advice
As in any mentoring relationship, avoid giving advice in the first instance. It is almost impossible not to view her dilemmas through the lens of your own gendered experience. Help her explore solutions that will work for her, in her context.
© Melissa Richardson 2018