Equality in Mentoring

Written by
Laura Francis

Empowering Women through Mentoring

When NASA canceled their much-hyped first all-female spacewalk recently, they did so because they did not have two space suits on the International Space Station in the right size for the two female astronauts. NASA stressed that they could not get a second medium-sized space suit operationally ready for the spacewalk in time, saying that it could pose a safety risk.

While ensuring the safety of their astronauts is absolutely critical, what struck me here is the lack of planning and forethought that occurred. What also stands out is that NASA does not even offer any space suits in a small size, which automatically rules out one-third of their female astronauts from even being able to consider doing a spacewalk according to NPR. Their reasoning: budgets.

How often have we heard that one before? We just don’t have the money to do this project or that initiative, even though we have the talented workforce waiting in the wings for it.

I have to wonder if this oversight from NASA would have occurred if there were more women in leadership roles there. Many organizations talk the talk of including more women on boards and in leadership roles because they want to harness new ideas, gather fresh perspectives, and hear new voices, but many are failing to live up to their word. Catalyst released a report in January 2019 called the Missing Pieces Report, in which they showed that women made up 22.5% of Fortune 500 boards in 2018. The thing that struck me was the emphasis made by the report authors to show the positive growth for female board members, hailing that increase in 2018 as practically groundbreaking. To be fair, it is better than the 15.7% of female board members for Fortune 500 companies that was reported in 2004, but I find 6.8% increase over the course of 14 years more disheartening than cause for celebration.

So how do we get more organizations to start walking the talk when it comes to bringing more women into leadership roles? One way is through mentoring.

The more people who have access to mentoring, the better. This is because they will have access to mentors, who are often leaders in the organization. They will have access to learning opportunities and exposure to key stakeholders. They will have the chance to stretch themselves and push themselves through their relationships. They will have the chance to learn and develop new skills that they may otherwise have missed out on.

When it comes right down to it, equality in mentoring relationships can lead to greater levels of diversity and inclusion in leadership roles and organizations in general.

Jennifer Brown, founder and chief executive of Jennifer Brown Consulting, points out that the makeup of the C-suite is often preordained. “Who you know has largely determined how high you rise within a hierarchy,” she explained in an article by Financier Worldwide Magazine. “Relationships do not necessarily trump experience, but being an insider often gives someone a path to the C-suite. Those in leadership positions, who tend to be white, straight men, still typically promote candidates who come from within their sphere of influence. Such leaders are used to working in an exclusive environment. The problem is there are still many that do not see a problem with that.”

Equitable mentoring can help address these very serious issues that Brown raises. It can also help companies from wasting the talent they have within their organizations, which is unfortunately what NASA did when they didn’t properly plan for having more female astronauts. Here are three ways to use mentoring to help elevate your female employees.

1. Enable Connections in Your Talent Pipeline via Formal Mentoring

As Brown pointed out, the path to the C-suite is often about who you know. Help your talented female employees make the connections they need to succeed and advance within your organization. Offer them access to mentoring relationships where they can cultivate the relationships and gain the knowledge that will be critical to their growth and success. If it’s all about who you know, then help your female employees expand their networks.

2. Draw Attention to Young Talent through Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring is a great way to help young women within your organization make themselves known to senior leaders. Have your young talent act as mentors to the more senior employees in structured reverse mentoring relationships. This helps the younger employees gain access to and exposure to critical contacts within leadership, which can impact their career path (not to mention help create a more equitable leadership pipeline for your organization).  

3. Support Leadership Training with Group Mentoring

Mentoring Circles

Conventional wisdom states that the higher you rise in leadership roles, the more isolated you tend to feel. Leaders often lack peer support as they climb the ranks. Alleviate this problem by offering group mentoring to your female leaders. Help them connect with peers and others who are navigating a similar path, providing them with a way to build a support network that they can learn from and lean on. You can even help your leaders reduce stress via mentoring, as a recent Harvard Business Review article showed.

These three ideas on how to use mentoring to support your female employees is just the starting point. There are many more ways to leverage mentoring for leadership, diversity, onboarding, succession planning, and more. To make it easier on yourself, consider offering these various types of mentoring via River mentoring software. You can run multiple programs in River, each with a unique focus for your targeted audience. River makes it easier for you to match, manage, and measure your mentoring program. Contact River today to learn how you can do more with mentoring.

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