A leader recently shared with me his uncertainty in how to effectively support a member of his senior leadership team, in developing her communication skills and her ability to engage and influence.
He shared that he had tried everything to give her the best opportunity to self-reflect, build self-awareness and perform to the needs of the business. But now he was at a loss to know how to navigate, what felt to him to be a very complex and sensitive situation. And to do it in a way that maintained trust, resolved the challenges and allowed everyone to grow.
He acknowledged he probably had some blind spots that were getting in the way of his ability to empower her, and he was open to learning in order to be a valuable mentor.
"There are benefits on both sides when men mentor women" explains David Smith, author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. For example, "women advance faster (and) men increase their interpersonal skills."
So why then are men leaning out?
In June last year a report released by the online mentoring platform, Art of Mentoring, showed that the proportion of Australian men who were uncomfortable about working alone with a woman had increased to 15% from just 7% as a result of #MeToo.
It matched findings from a study commissioned by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organisation in the US to measure the extent of men’s withdrawal from working with women. Almost 50% more senior male managers in America, and 40% more men overall, feel uncomfortable participating in common workplace activities with women, than prior to the public reports.
ARE WE CREATING EQUALITY?
Men choosing to lean out of the conversation for supporting and mentoring women because it feels risky, unfamiliar, confusing, shameful or unconvincing, is a tangible measure of how unsuccessful we currently are in our mission for equality.
Some organisations remain silent in this conversation by successfully meeting gender equality quota but unsuccessfully doing what's needed to support their female rising stars to thrive in their career and leadership aspirations.
To be truly equal, the conversation for the rise of women cannot exclude the understanding of, and appreciation for, men.
In our striving to be deemed equal we're overlooking the need to provide men in senior leadership positions with the right understanding, capability and resources to effectively and confidently mentor a woman.
MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT
In it's intention to be inclusive, this conversation dilutes the undeniable differences between men and women - how we think, create, respond and communicate. We are much more complex beings than differentiating simply by a gender distinction, but the fact that we're not treating men and women differently is a problem.
To be truly equal, the conversation for the rise of women cannot exclude the understanding of, and appreciation for, men. If organisations don't learn how to support men to share their expertise and experience well, we will soon be facing (and we already are in some environments), the knee-jerk resentment of men toward women.
HE NEEDS TO DO THE WORK
Women have shared with me that they're eager and ready to grow, but in their traditionally male-dominated industries are frustrated with the lack of knowledge and skill in their male seniors to provide the right mentoring.
The stark differences and even subtle nuances between men and women in our thinking, feeling and expressing is nothing new to us in our personal relationships. Working with these differences and understanding how to adapt to support mentees to their greatest benefit is part of the self-development work men need to do.
Educating men in how to lead, mentor and coach women (and engaging them to want to), requires a space of trust so that he can do his own work to become the mentor he needs and wants to be.
Here are some core principles for coaching men to develop into engaging, impactful, respectful, aware and respected mentors:
Work together to identify what's in the way and why he may not be interested, or is dis-empowered or previously unsuccessful in a mentoring or coaching role. Like the iceberg, there's always much more going on underneath the surface than any of us know or let on. This requires great respect, compassion and high quality questions and listening.
Cultivate a safe space for a man to be open, humble, vulnerable, honest with himself and what he might view as his weaknesses, while not feeling judged, rejected or shamed. There is no substitute for self-awareness in any kind of leadership role.
Support the development of his mindset, knowledge, skills and emotional intelligence, and educate him in how to to build authentic confidence (as opposed to bravado) and professional maturity.
Ensure an empowered space that works for both the mentor and mentee and seek regular feedback from the mentee, facilitating honest conversations to ensure the mentorship is working and fulfilling on agreed outcomes.
Provide an accountability framework for the mentor that supports his ongoing learning and development. He can then mentor other men to mentor women well.
Striving for equality for women in the workplace and in leadership is important, but it is one part of the conversation. We must also put in place the framework for the ongoing and unlimited growth and success of women and men.
Conversations with depth cause sustained change. Understanding and respecting the differences between us in what we each need - to learn, to transcend limitations and to develop as leaders and mentors, is critical to empowering women and men equally.