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Advice for Men Who Are Nervous About Mentoring Women

Wendy Murphy

03/15/2019

Many senior male managers are reportedly responding to the #MeToo movement with a better-safe-than-sorry attitude and are pulling back from mentoring women. This backlash has little basis in reality. False accusations of sexual harassment are about 2%, the same as any other crime. Aside from being biased, this reaction is also shortsighted: Repercussions of depriving female employees of the counseling, developmental opportunities, exposure, and visibility that come from mentoring relationships have serious consequences for the future of the organization.

It’s quite simple: If we want more women leaders, we need men in powerful positions to support their ascension. As a professor at Babson College, I conduct research, speak, and write about mentoring. Mentoring by definition may include career support (sponsorship, coaching, exposure, challenging assignments) and psychosocial support (encouragement, counseling, friendship). Protégés (or mentees) earn higher salaries, are promoted more quickly, are more satisfied with their job, and, most importantly, learn more to improve their performance, their career, and their workplace.

After countless conversations with well-intentioned senior, male executives, it is clear that we need to address one question. How should men approach mentoring in today’s workplace? Here are five suggestions:

1. Intentionally seek out women mentees. Mentors should pursue developmental relationships purposefully with respect to differences. Evaluate your current network of protégés and consider how diverse it is. Do you engage with men more than women? Why? What is your key challenge? David Clutterbuck’s research on mentoring suggests that strategies such as open dialogue, suspending judgment, and identifying common interests and values can help.

These internal relationship challenges mean that you may need to risk some discomfort to make the relationship work. We are naturally attracted to people like us, a sociological principle called homophily, which means that we have a tendency to bond with people similar to ourselves. This also means that young men will be more comfortable approaching their senior male colleagues for mentoring. Thus, the challenge is to ensure that you are actively managing mentoring opportunities beyond the people who show up at your door.

 

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