In the wake of their recent survey that revealed men are more hesitant to mentor women since the #MeToo dialogue started last fall, Lean In has launched a new initiative for men to mentor women. Called #MentorHer, this important program adds another welcome push on men to do their part in making workplace gender inequities everyone’s issue, not just a women’s issue.
I applaud the founding of this program while reminding men and women alike that its success, as with any mentoring arrangement, depends not only on the mentorship activities themselves, but on having the right tools and tactics in place to encourage a true partnership between mentor and mentee. What I mean by this is that men and women need to be actively co-engaged in joint mentorship efforts, and the most important step toward achieving this is for women to invite men in. This action is particularly critical in light of Lean In’s data that show almost half of male managers currently feel uncomfortable collaborating with women whether they are mentoring, working, or socializing together.
It’s also key for male mentors to bring the right inclusive leadership mindsets, behaviors, and education into mentoring experiences. This is why SHAMBAUGH advocates creating an allied relationship—with cross-mentoring between men and women—rather than a unidirectional one from just men to just women.
When mentoring does occur in the traditional male-to-female flow of guidance, though, why is it so important that men feel invited and welcomed by women into starting a mentoring relationship? One big reason, as the Lean In study shows, is that now more than ever, men often avoid stepping into this role on their own because they feel uncomfortable providing feedback to women. Research from McKinsey and others has shown that male executives often feel uncomfortable giving women the type of tough, honest feedback that could help them grow and advance in their career for fear that women will react emotionally. Men have tended to feel more comfortable giving this valuable critical feedback to other men, which perpetuates the status quo of more men being mentored and moved into leadership roles while women stay stuck in place.
Women can grease the wheels for their own mentorship opportunities by letting men know they are comfortable with growth-oriented feedback and would value hearing it. Both genders can also use this opportunity of increased corporate interest in mentorship to create a joint solution—a unified voice between men and women supporting each other with the right tools.
Here are some tips that male and female executives/employees can use to increase their chance of a successful mentoring alliance:
- Listen to understand. The new Lean In survey shows that trust is lower now between potential mentors and mentees than it was before—more than twice as many male managers now feel leery of working alone with a woman than they did before the #MeToo Movement began. So, building trust is more important than ever, and a great way to understand how others see the world is by honing your listening skills. Men and women alike can take steps to become better listeners by asking the right questions, and focusing on not just the content of the responses but on the feelings behind what’s stated.
- Prioritize “Power of One” principles. The Power of One is about internalizing a new way of thinking that goes beyond diversity or even gender. It’s about taking steps to unify our collective voice, strengths, and experiences. We can do this as leaders by:
- Sharing the power—no matter where you sit, good mentors need to take off their labels and meet mentees in an equal partnership.
- Being inclusive—expand your lens and be open to mentoring people outside of your day-to-day network.
- Getting out of your comfort zone—have the courage as women or men to reach out to mentors that are different from you—people you don’t affiliate with on a regular basis.
- Approach feedback with intentionality. With the research above in mind about how men often feel about giving feedback to women, it’s important to become aware of your own tendencies when giving or receiving feedback. I recently spoke with a graduate of the SHAMBAUGH Institute for Women in Leadership and Learning (WILL) program about getting and receiving feedback from mentors and managers. She said that while she gets feedback from men, she generally doesn’t find it constructive or helpful. As an example, she noted that she had recently received the following feedback from her male manager: “You just don’t have that strong a voice in meetings. I know you have good things to contribute, so go ahead and say them. Be brave.” She wasn’t sure what exactly to do with that information. This type of disconnect is not always the man’s fault, but more likely related to how both parties communicate and see the world; in other words, cognitive diversity. I coached my client to go back and ask her manager to be more specific in his feedback regarding the behavior she used—for example, she could ask him to describe exactly when it happens, how he believes people react to it, and what steps she could take to be more intentional and bold regarding the way she speaks up in group settings.
We want men to lean in to mentorship, but they need something to lean into. Mentoring is about senior-level feedback. If a man fears giving his feedback out of concern that a woman will take it personally so instead takes a pass or sugarcoats his advice, then this becomes a loss not only for the woman but for the man as well. In fact, the whole team and everyone in the organization loses. This is why all of us, no matter our gender, need to learn how to give and receive constructive feedback as mentors and mentees, especially when it’s difficult—and if we want to advance, we need to let our mentors and managers know that we’re open to hearing such feedback. And that’s what the Power of One is all about: moving beyond gender into clear actions and principles that focus on the results we all want in our organizations, rather than becoming divided by our differences.
To learn how you can engage men and women as allies visit: www.shambaughleadership.com
Rebecca Shambaugh is the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.