Are mentoring programmes that target women and minorities fair?

mentoring programme‘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.

Why assumptions that women ‘Fall in Love’ at work hinders senior male sponsorship

WomenNobel Laureate Tim Hunt has quite rightly come in for criticism for his comments about his ‘problem with girls in the lab’. But it does unearth a vain assumption about the helplessness of women falling under the spell of their male colleagues. But the bigger problem is that these kinds of assumptions, held by many senior men and women as well, hold women back from networking closely with men or benefiting from their sponsorship. While Hunt is in the firing line, these assumptions are not limited to science. As the Centre for Talent Innovation found in their research on mentoring and sponsorship, a majority of senior men are concerned about obviously helping junior women for fear of it being misconstrued.

For example, the Washington Post recently detailed how common this is in US government. Female and male congressional staffers on the Hill were surveyed by the National Journal about access to their bosses. They found clear evidence, from both male and female staffers, that women were being being barred from spending time one on one, having closed door meetings or even in some cases travelling with their male bosses. Ostensibly, for some male bosses this is to ‘protect’ both parties from any ‘misunderstandings’ and suspicious onlookers. However, as Catherine Rampell wrote in the piece: ‘These rules- which inherently sexualise what should be mundane work interactions – seemed predicated on the premise that either all women are devilish temptresses irresistible to their libidinous bosses or that all women are liars who will fabricate sexual harassment charges at the slightest provocation.’

As in the case of every man and woman who eschews workplace interaction with the opposite sex, it disproportionately limits the careers of women who are more likely to need senior male support to progress. Sensitive and strategic decisions are the most likely kind to be made behind closed doors – an impossibility for a woman to influence if she has to be chaperoned or is excluded. As Rampell explained: ‘No wonder female staffers earn, on average, $6000 less than their male counterparts , a disparity driven by the fact women are underrepresented in senior positions ….which will continue as long as predominantly male bosses insist on never becoming true mentors, confidants and sponsors to women’. The best advice: Create a culture where interactions between men and women are encouraged and discussed as normal. And if that doesn’t work, as Rampell suggests, remind men: “There’s no better way of cultivating suspicions of lechery than announcing to the world you can’t be left alone with a lady’. Certainly, this was the same comment raised by senior people we know after Hunt announced the frequency with which ‘women fall in love with him or he falls in love with them’.

Women as ‘mentors’, but not judges: Reduce bias in organising competitions


I recently volunteered to give my time over a weekend to an Entrepreneurial start-up event. As an established business woman, I was asked if I’d mentor teams that had formed on a Friday night, on the Saturday and Sunday. The mentoring remit was to help them pull together an idea; establish market viability, and develop a business plan for pitching to a panel of judges on the Sunday night.

In the run up to the event, several drafts of the list of mentors and judges were distributed. I noticed that with each successive mailing, the number of men on the mentors list shrank as would-be mentors pulled out while the number of male judges increased. On the first morning, I arrived to find that no male mentors had indeed arrived, leaving a small team of 4 female mentors and a well-intentioned male organiser. The event went well, and I enjoyed working with my team for 8 hours that weekend. I was especially delighted when my team won on the Sunday night, but I couldn’t help but notice the gender split; men were happier to volunteer their time for ‘judging’ (1-2 hours max) whereas women had been asked to take on the much more time consuming task of ‘mentoring.’

The event organiser is a friend in the business community, and no doubt this gender split was unintentional. However, it is evidence of unconscious bias, and one I’ve seen at other events where women are expected to do a time-consuming event organisation role but men are asked to do jobs that showcase their expertise as judges and headline speakers. Perhaps it also speaks to how men value their time and see their value versus women. In any case, it sends an implicit message women are support, but men are the stars.

Again, no one is ’trying’ to be biased, but it reminded me of when I started out consulting in this field, leaders would sometimes say to me: ‘We have gender balance: 50% of our staff are women. They just happen to be in secretarial roles while the other half are male bosses – so we are balanced!’  Avoid this deadly sin next time you are organising an event to ensure you have a mixed team behind the scenes, as well as on centre-stage.

‘Advice to my daughters: Why young women need feminism more than ever’

Emma Watson UN speechNow I’m working with InclusIQ, I notice more to share with my daughters. The recent Emma Watson speech at the UN certainly was a great springboard for discussion, as it might be for your own children. I tell my three daughters to aim high; with hard work and commitment they can achieve anything. This is true, but sadly it’s not just their attitude and zest for achievement that will affect their path.

Recent research by Girl Guilding shows 87% of female 11-21 year olds feel they are judged more on appearance than ability. Three out of 4 (75%) say sexism affects most areas of their lives. This is disappointing, but all the more reason to support girls who get involved in campaigns such as the Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3. Girls are taking a stand and ensuring their future is one they have a say in.

Julie Bentley, Girl Guiding CEO told the BBC, girls: “can do anything that they set their minds to”. They produced a short film and dedicated it to all party leaders, explaining why girls and young women play a vital role in society. They want the support of parliament to ensure a ‘future that truly sees parity between men and women’.

Ellie Dibben, also of Girl Guides explains: ‘People are beginning to understand society isn’t as equal as we thought and young women are no longer content to remain a silent group within society. We are the voters of tomorrow and government needs to take our views into account’.

Girl Guides are taking on a more proactive role calling directly on politicians to:

  • Listen to their concerns about harassment.
  • Requesting schools teach body confidence and gender equality.
  • Address harmful sexualised content in mainstream media.
  • Guarantee women will be equally represented in parliament.

Girl Guides give young women aspirations; with initiatives such as ‘Camp CEO’ which partners them with female executives from a range of sectors. It’s a great way to help girls consider leadership roles.

The best advice for my daughters? Be true to yourself, work hard in all core subjects – and get plenty of exposure to strong women. If they feel inspired into action by Emma Watson’s speech all the better. At the end of the day our children shape our future.

By guest blogger Wendy Rundle

What Sally Krawcheck Knows about Resilience

women in business resilienceLast week I attended the We Own It Summit in London, about increasing women’s participation in high growth entrepreneurship.  Sally Krawchek, who Fortune magazine called ‘The Last Honest Analyst’ before her high-profile departure from Bank of America during a contentious management shake-up, was a main speaker. She encouraged the audience to, in our darkest hours, to “Be Weebles’ citing the beloved children’s toy I fondly remember. As some may remember; ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.’ Resilience is the key in the face of adversity. Putting her money where her mouth is, Sally recently bought 85 Broads, a 30,000 strong professional female network, which no doubt will go from strength to strength now that she is at the helm.

Resilience is a big theme for me. Earlier in the day I’d spoken with a friend, Kimberley Cole, of Thomson Reuters, who shared the advice her daughter’s school had given parents. When a child succeeds, comment on how hard they worked rather than how clever they must be. Children who believe they are capable of hard work, as opposed to just being naturally bright, will continue to set the bar higher for their achievements. Children who are brought up to believe they are ‘just clever’ don’t continue to challenge themselves, almost believing there is a natural limit to their intelligence – and not a ceiling they want to hit. Kimberley and I agreed hard work, resilience and persistence trumps all.

This all hit home for me because of a recent coaching session. My client, an academically brilliant woman, had just received bad news she wasn’t getting a job she’d been counting on. This ‘failure’ completely overwhelmed her. While she’d known for several weeks, she was still frozen in action and spent most of the call in tears. We worked through some options for her, but most importantly she admitted she had never ‘failed’ in her life.  Like many of my clients, she had put the work in over her schooling and in her career, but had never faced much adversity. She had never learned how to be resilient – a quality she now knew she would need as she progressed. I will tell her about my experience with Sally Krawcheck, because if there is one thing successful people need, it’s to become Weebles…and not fall down.

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