‘To be equal, shouldn’t our mentoring programme be open to white men as well?’ People sometimes ask why we help companies develop mentoring programmes aimed at mentees from non-traditional backgrounds. And they are right – mentoring programmes should be open to everyone if we worked in a world that was already equal; in a world where ethnic minorities and women were as statistically likely to have the top jobs as white men. However, for those who are serious about increasing diversity in leadership, there is nothing wrong with prioritising ethnic minorities and women as your mentees and senior leaders (who disproportionately tend to be white and male) to be the mentors.
The truth is, the introduction of a formal mentoring programme doesn’t stop anyone, white male or otherwise, from seeking mentors. It merely makes these relationships more accessible to those who haven’t traditionally benefited from such relationships informally. In fact, in our reviews with mentors, they often compare these ‘formal’ relationships against the informal ones – the relationships that just seem to ‘crop up’. Nine times out of ten, informal relationships are with more junior white men – men who remind them of a younger version of themselves. The time to make formal mentoring programmes equally accessible to white male mentees as it is to everyone else, is when your senior leadership team is as diverse as your consumer and talent base. Until then, giving a leg up to those who are less likely to ‘crop up’ when it comes to discussing promotions is the only way to make real change.
I was at Bank station today to see a client. I always notice when at Bank or Canary Wharf or any other City hotspot, how few older women I see around me. This sends an implicit message to both women and men about the utility of older women, or perceived lack thereof. But it’s also a waste of hard-earned talent – some of the best talent a company can have according to new research by PWC. It appears women over 55 have the greatest likelihood of being what the firm called ‘strategist leadership style”. According To City AM strategist leaders are best able to deliver transformational change, as they are “likely to have wider experience of settings, people, and also of failure”.
According to PWC strategist leadership skills: ‘engenders a humility of perspective and resilience, so that they know what to do when things don’t work.’ The research focused on over 6000 European professionals and found just 8% surveyed had the requisite skills to effect change – a vital skill in such a rapidly evolving marketplace. So what do those skills exactly look like? As detailed in Forbes those skills: ‘include resilience, human perspective, a positive use of language, the ability to move between vision and detail, and the ability to figure out what to do when things don’t work – something that comes from a wide experience of settings, people and even of failure.
The largest number of those surveyed who actually had these attributes were in fact women over the age of 55. But not only were these women being overlooked, they were often first in line when cutbacks and early retirement packages were being handed out.’
Humility with strong determination is something also noted by Jim Collins in his seminal book ‘From Good to Great’. His research didn’t take into account gender, but these were the same qualities he noticed in leaders who transformed businesses.
Before the election, I was fortunate enough to meet Nicola Sturgeon. While I don’t agree with all of her policies, I hugely respect the fact she ran for election seven times before her first win. That type of resilience and empathy with losing will mark her out as a relatable and we think, great leader. She’s a real departure from other politicians who virtually walked into safe seats right after graduating from Oxbridge, and those qualities will set her apart.