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Why is Mentorship Important for Women Leaders

A recent study showing steady increase in the number of women taking on senior leadership roles names women mentorship as the main reason for this trend.

Women are increasingly taking on senior leadership positions in businesses, universities and other organizations and are being recognized as leaders in the industries they have entered into. Although women in leadership roles have been growing in the last 25 years, males continue to dominate many of the senior and executive positions.

 In the last two years, new laws have emerged ensuring women are involved in leadership roles; for example, by the end of 2019, it became mandatory for board of directors to have at least one woman participate with the board in California and up to three by the year 2021. Female representation is becoming a legal thing now!

Statistics show that only 32% of C-Suite executives are women compared to the higher percentage of males in C-Suite positions. While this is a larger number than years past, it is still considerably lower especially in male dominated industries where women leaders are virtually non-existent. However, there is still a significant increase of women in leadership positions ranging from the political arena worldwide, to Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in large corporations. Approximately 5.2% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, such as The Hershey Company, Northrop Grumman, and General Motors. Women in leadership positions have been growing steadily worldwide, with a 29% increase in senior management roles and at least one female senior manager role in 2019. With these numbers, it seems as if mentorship has been one of the main reasons for the growth of women leaders globally.

Women want to become successful leaders; however, they aren’t always given positions that will lead them to growth. Instead, some women are given roles where there is no potential for promotions in companies that hire them. This leads to a lack of mentorship available for women to take advantage of. Male mentors choose to mentor men over women due to issues of harassment (the #metoo movement is a classic example), or the company they may work for simply does not have mentorship programs available.

Mentorship for women is an underutilized tool. There are a few reasons for this underutilization: (1) those who can mentor others feel they may be too close to the person asking for mentorship and the issues which may be presented; (2) they are afraid to appear as ineffectual mentors, or (3) they are simply too occupied to attend any meetings with their mentees, thus severing the mentoring relationship. There is an absence of women to women mentorship because there aren’t enough female leaders. Unfortunately, some women leaders don’t want to build mentoring relationships with other women because they don’t want competition.

Benefits of Mentoring

Women can benefit from having mentors both male and/or female who can help them achieve their professional goals. A study was conducted a few years ago on women entrepreneurs who received mentorship versus those who didn’t. Those who were mentored had found benefits in developing their businesses and were successful in their outcomes; they learned more about how to be transformational leaders. Those who were not mentored did not see the same success. Without mentors, success becomes harder to achieve. This is why it is so important for women leaders to have mentors. Here are just some of the many benefits mentorship brings:

  • A structured process for career planning through creating personal and professional development opportunities
  • The ability to gain more visibility and exposure for the mentee at their place of work
  • An opportunity to reflect on personal core values while improving critical thinking and problem solving skills through personal development
  • The ability to receive emotional support from their mentors
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Learning from mentors who have experienced challenges and obstacles in running their own businesses, which contributes to their success.
  • Reduction in isolation, more confidence and higher job satisfaction
  • Different perspectives and viewpoints of how the organization works and the importance of their roles in the workplace
  • Motivational and psychological benefits from the mentor/mentee relationship

Different Forms of Mentorship

First, there is the traditional mentoring relationship – some companies have mentorship programs available and match mentors with mentees by department, or by role. If you are looking for a mentor within your company, ask your department manager, or your human resources department about potential mentorship programs. If they have one, chances are, you will get matched with a mentor who fits your career goals. You can also look for a mentor outside of the organization as well. For example, if your desire is to become a C-suite executive and you can’t find someone in your organization who can mentor you, look for a mentor who you can connect with from another company who has the same or similar role you are looking to advance into.

Coaching is another form of mentorship, however, the purpose of coaching is to enhance performance whereas, mentoring’s purpose is to increase the mentee’s learning ability. Coaching however, provides the emotional support and the opportunity to reflect on one’s personal development which is why coaching is a great way to find role models who can provide guidance and advice, and improve confidence.

Sponsorships take mentoring to a whole new level and is especially beneficial for women who want to advance their careers and move ahead. While mentorship creates a relationship between the mentor and mentee where the mentor shares their own experiences and advises the mentees, sponsorship supports the mentee by providing them with challenges, supports the promotions of the woman leader, and creates opportunities for the mentee through their own networks. Sponsors go a step ahead by risking their own reputations for their mentees to benefit them in moving forward with their career goals. Sponsorship is critical to the success of career advancement, specifically to attaining high leadership roles, yet women seem to be less likely to take on sponsors although the extra support from sponsorship will assist with their success.

In the last ten years, another form of mentoring has become popular, known as reverse mentorship. With reverse mentoring, the mentee has more technological knowledge than their mentors and are able to provide developmental assistance to share information or knowledge with the senior manager they are mentoring. In return, the senior manager or executive will then provide mentorship opportunities for the mentee and help them develop roles through their technological knowledge.

Finally, peer to peer mentoring develops when managers come together as a group with a senior manager who becomes the facilitator to help them with meeting their goals. Because women are collaborative in nature and have varied work and leadership styles, peer mentoring models may work best for them than for their male counterparts. Peer mentoring is great for women aspiring to enhance their career goals and requires that mentees work with their mentor facilitators collaboratively to meet their individual goals by coming together with shared values and vision, interests and skill sets.

How to Find a Mentor

It’s important for women to find the right mentor. Here are a few tips on how you can find a mentor today!

  • Ask your human resources department or your manager directly about any mentorship programs. If your company has a career advancement plan, chances are, they have a mentorship plan in place. If they do, inquire about being matched with a mentor who will meet your career goals to help you advance within the company.
  • If your organization does not have a mentorship program, look outside for a mentor. Go to networking events (virtual right now since we’re going through a pandemic), and meet new people. You may find someone who is working in a leadership position you want to be in, so strike up a conversation, and go from there. Most people are honored to be a mentor if they are asked. However, develop a relationship first before jumping in and asking a random stranger to become a mentor. You want to make sure you both have good rapport together before asking for mentorship.
  • Volunteer in organizations, such as Toastmasters International, where you can connect with others while enhancing your public speaking and leadership skills. Chances are, you will find a mentor there who can help you with upleveling your career.
  • If you are taking classes, try asking your professors or instructors if they can also mentor you on your career goals as the likelihood of them successfully achieving the same career goals you have may help you with achieving yours.
  • You can find online mentors as well. Search through your LinkedIn network and ask them for introductions with people who are 2nd degree connections with you.

There are many ways to find mentors and women can certainly take advantage of them. Women who have mentors thrive more and benefit from career advancement than those who don’t have mentors. Ultimately, for women to be successful in their careers and achieve higher leadership positions, it is imperative and even encouraged for women to look for and build relationships with mentors early on in their career. Developing their personal and professional capacity as leaders will be beneficial for women as female leadership continues to grow.

It becomes so important for organizations across industries to create mentorship programs and match together female mentees with senior level mentors who can help them learn and adopt new skills from the experiences the mentor shares. Success is much higher for women to attain leadership positions when they have mentors who can provide them opportunities for growth and development.

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