Friday, August 14, 2009

New Dynamics in Mentoring Women

Not long ago the thought of men being ideal mentors for women would have sounded absurd. How could a man possibly understand a woman’s experience in the workplace?

Not only has the workplace changed, but the debate has changed along with it. If the end goal is to promote more women into positions of power, who better to teach them than the men who are already there? Most women agree that women seeking to become executives should find a male mentor.

When building an internal mentoring program, common ingredients for success do exist. There needs to be an active facilitator who pairs a mentor with a protégé. Throughout the process the woman interested in being mentored must take the initiative. Observers agree that absent a real determination from a woman seeking to learn from colleagues, an informal program whereby the organization sets the table and then steps out of the picture is unlikely to work.

The most effective mentoring relationships should last for one year. Partners should meet monthly. If time constraints do not permit such frequency, they should meet for an extended period of three hours per quarter. No topic should be considered irrelevant.

There are plenty of issues to discuss such as how to prepare presentations, speak the language of the board or build rapport with male executives. Maybe a female protégé needs to work on strategic thinking or develop greater financial acumen. Whatever they choose to focus on, the protégé should select an area that is crucial for them to reach the next level.

What distinguishes men from women in terms of mentoring is men’s willingness to seek and be guided by a mentor. Too often, according to workplace analysts, women fear asking for advice on professional matters out of fear that they will be perceived as incompetent or under qualified. On the flipside women are still reluctant mentors to other women.

Why are women at the executive level often unwilling to take on a guiding role? Reasons vary from a shortage of women in power to the limited time and heightened spotlight that the few at the top operate under. Possibly they suffer from the same affliction as doctors who express little sympathy for the brutal hours required of residents. If they had to struggle through days of 12-hour shifts without sleep, then why shouldn’t the next generation suffer the same?

Structured mentoring programs are effective. What makes or breaks it is the willingness of the protégé to keep the process going. It is not up to the mentor to set a schedule or select topics to discuss. The protégé has to take charge of the process.

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