Mentoring Women To Succeed

There is no doubt that companies that embrace gender diversity benefit greatly in terms of organizational effectiveness. Particularly, over the past few years, there has been much talk about gender diversity, pay equity and the lack of women in executive and leadership roles. However, women continue to hit the “glass ceiling” or drop off the career ladder in droves.

Even though when entering the workforce, women overpower men in terms of the numbers (53% of new hires are women), by the time they reach managerial level, the ratio is a dismal 30%. What happens to so many women?

Why do women drop off?

What happens is a factor of many issues.

According to a recent study by Mckinsey, core challenges that professional women face are:

• The old traditional model of family and societal expectations resulting in the “double burden syndrome”: Women have to manage both work and home on a single set of shoulders. This often becomes overpowering and they give in

• Biases from both men and women regarding women in leadership, or women as bosses: women not supporting women, and men opposing women bosses

• Infrastructure gaps: where organizations fail to provide adequate support infrastructure and policies to support keeping women at the workplace

• Lack of targeted leadership programs and limited networking opportunities: leadership development programs that are focused on the male model of leadership, ignoring the unique needs and perspectives of women

There are many deeply entrenched beliefs (in the minds of organizations and male counterparts), but more pertinently the self-limiting beliefs in the minds of young women.

Sheryl Sandburg so famously said that successful women don’t see their career progression as a ladder that needs to be climbed up, but rather as a jungle gym that she navigates through. This assumes women getting off the ladder and up onto another part of the gym. This doesn’t happen often, and definitely not with support and guidance.

There is ample evidence to suggest that navigating one’s career with the support and guidance of a mentor(s) can make all the difference. In my experience, I felt more confident and courageous to ask for larger assignments and choose transformational career shifts because I was supported and advised by the mentors in my life.

People who have mentors usually have a clearly defined role of themselves, and clear goals, in addition to a network of contacts to help them reach those goals.

While most men are clear about who they aspire to, and who they invite as a mentor into their lives, this question often stumps smart intelligent women. They either haven’t thought about it, or don’t know where to start looking for a mentor.

In a survey conducted by LinkedIn in 2011, 52 % of female respondents claimed that they have never had a mentor because they haven’t met someone appropriate.

The problem is that too many women start to look for mentors at their current workplace. Too many organizations have too few female executives and the ones who are there are bombarded with requests to be a mentor.

The ideal mentor is someone who you connect with and who understands you intuitively. An ideal mentor is also someone who you look up to and aspire to be like. So, the ideal mentor to a woman could be a man or a women.

I come across too many young, ambitious women who don’t have a mentor, and who don’t know when to start looking for one. So here are some suggestions.

How to find a mentor

Be clear

Be clear on what aspect of your career or around which goal you want to be mentored. Are you looking for mentoring around a specific project, or long-term career guidance? Being clear on what area of your career you are looking to be mentored in will help you identify potential mentors.

Be creative

Don’t look for the conventional or obvious choices. Think differently. Think creatively. You don’t need to look only in your industry. In the early years of my career, one of my mentors was from a completely different industry, but who had transformed his career through bold choices.

Build a relationship

Its crucial to build a relationship with a potential mentor, so that the mentor understands you and is motivated to mentor you. I once received an email from a complete stranger (she knew me), asking me to mentor her. Obviously that didn’t go down too well. Meet your potential mentor (in person if possible), and build a relationship. Respect their time. Never ask someone to be your mentor via email.

Set clear goals

Be clear about what your goals are and what you would like to focus on in the mentoring relationship. Share these with your mentor. Come prepared with specific discussion areas

Set clear goals and boundaries for your relationship as well. Decide on the frequency of the meetings, duration and location.

Be realistic about your expectations and never ask for more than what your relationship allows.

Finally, step up to be a mentor yourself. Pay it forward. Everyone has something to offer. You do too.

Too many women’s mentoring programs are grounded in the belief that women have to mentor women. They should. There is no doubt about that. However, male mentors are equally effective. The key is make sure that young ambitious women are being supported by mentors through their careers.

Neeru is the Founder and Managing Director of the Marya Leadership Academy FZE, a Dubai based coaching and leadership development firm, focused on developing women leaders in the region. She is a certified coach and has over 18 years of experience working with fortune 500 companies, and extensive experience coaching executives, leaders, fresh graduates and social entrepreneurs in the Middle East and Africa region and India for over a decade. Neeru is also Head of entrepreneur management at C3 an innovative platform for scaling social enterprise in the region.