Why more men should mentor women: Q&A with the authors of Athena Rising
Ellen Patterson, Group Head, General Counsel and Chair of Women in Leadership at TD sits down with co-authors of the book, Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, to discuss how men can help drive gender equality at work through mentorship, and the benefits these relationships can have for all parties.
There's plenty of research linking diversity with better business results, increased innovation and improved talent retention. And everyone has a role to play in fostering greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
However, recent data from LeanIn.org, a non-profit focused on women's empowerment, indicates that men are increasingly withdrawing from interactions with women in the workplace. In a survey of over 5,000 participants, 60 per cent of male managers say they're uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women(32 per cent more than 2018), such as mentoring, one-on-one meetings, or socializing. This data is troubling and should prompt us to increase our efforts in support of a more inclusive work environment.
Brad Johnson, PhD, and David Smith, PhD are the co-authors of the book Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, which draws from their extensive research and experience as experts in gender workplace issues. TD recently hosted Brad and David at a Women in Leadership event where they shared their insights on mentorship, gender inequality and workplace transformation. I sat down with the co-authors to discuss their book and the topic of men acting as allies for women in their careers.
Ellen: Your book speaks to why it's vital for men to mentor women. What do you mean by this?
David: Junior women may set out to find someone who looks like them as a mentor, only to become frustrated when there are few, if any, examples. Some senior women in male-dominated businesses may also be hesitant to mentor a junior woman until she has proven herself because of the risk that this may be viewed as preferential treatment. So, we need men to be excellent mentors for women. Because many power positions in many organizations are still occupied by men today, they should be involved with mentoring emerging talent who will be the future leaders of these organizations. These male leaders can then use their social capital, networks and influence to benefit talented women and create more inclusive organizations.
Ellen: What was your inspiration in writing this book?
Brad: Companies that are working to improve gender diversity and equity focus on policies and programs to increase recruitment of women and eliminate overt discrimination. However, these efforts are destined to be fruitless if there is no focus on how men can be part of the solution for gender equity and parity.
Having worked for the military, we knew that it might be more effective for us, as men, to start this conversation about the need for men to act as allies while providing the social science evidence from our disciplines of psychology and sociology to support the message.
Evidence consistently shows that women face more barriers in securing mentorships than men, and when they do find a mentor, they may reap a narrower range of both career and psychological benefits. When men lean in to the roles of ally and mentor for women, they stand to help level the playing field for women at work.
Ellen: What has your research demonstrated about the characteristics of effective mentoring?
Brad: An excellent mentoring relationship requires a mentor who can listen, understand and affirm a mentee’s unique experiences and dreams. Only in this kind of supportive relationship can the trust and commitment needed for real personal and professional growth occur. An excellent mentor will show empathy, affirmation and positive encouragement for their mentee. The mentor understands the importance of friendship, openness and reciprocity in the mentoring relationship while maintaining professionalism.
Ellen: Even among women, there is so much diversity. Does your research reveal differences for women who are diverse in other ways, such as women who are visible minorities or LGBTQ, for example?
David: As if things weren’t challenging enough for women at work, there is evidence that women of colour must contend with both gender and racial bias. One African-American aphorism captures the experience of women of colour at work: “You have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”
As with any bias or prejudice in the workplace, people who don’t feel valued, respected or like they belong are more likely to leave their position, experience job burnout and have lower job satisfaction. As with men or any other group, not all women have the same experiences at work. In listening and developing awareness of differences that exist within a group and how experiences may overlap, allies appreciate the complexities of multiple identities (for example, being a woman and also an African-American).
Allies seek to understand the experiences of women of colour related to having multiple obstacles to face when exposed to multiple disadvantages, often referred to as double jeopardy, or invisibility, should they not fit a certain prototype. Often, members of non-dominant cultures will "cover" or downplay the ways that they differ from the dominant culture. Aware of “covering” behavior and how it can create challenges with authenticity, allies create interactions and an environment where people are valued for their whole selves.
Ellen: Your book shares 46 tips on an effective mentoring relationship. If you could pick three that stand out, which ones would they be?
Male mentors who approach mentoring relationships with genuine gender humility are most effective. Men’s perceptions about women and how they are fundamentally different from men can get in the way of a productive relationship. Men who mentor women often quickly come to understand that their female mentees are not all that different than themselves when it comes to values and priorities at work.
Providing critical feedback to mentees can be a challenge for mentors due to concerns that they may hurt their mentee's feelings. However, not providing this undermines someone's ability to grow and develop by learning important lessons.
Men need to be aware of who is included and who is not when there are important meetings and events. A quick look around the room should be enough to realize who is not in the room and the conversation. Women should have a seat at the table and a voice.