According to a recent survey, 56% of American workers have had a professional mentor, while 76% believe that mentorship is an important part of professional and career development. Unsurprisingly, there is a pronounced gender discrepancy when it comes to American mentorship; 82% of men have had male mentors, while just 69% of women have had female mentors.
As the founder and CEO of my own real estate holding company, as well as the mother and sponsor of two men working to grow and expand their respective businesses, I’m passionate about helping more women step into mentorship roles. Daily, I’m privileged to experience the difference we as women can make, not only by mentoring other women, but also by mentoring men across all fields, especially male-dominated industries, which may rely on mentorship the most.
Workplace gender discrepancies are a problem women did not create, but I believe we can actively contribute to finding solutions. Imagining my own legacy, I’m committed to exploring what it looks like for men to enter women-led companies and how women can better facilitate this shift. I am encouraged that there has never been a generation more enthusiastic about female mentorship than the one preparing to enter the workforce today.
Here are a few ways I believe women can change the conversation on equality in the workplace by establishing themselves as mentors, thereby elevating the success of their colleagues and their companies.
Let go of assumptions.
Women often assume that men are unlikely to seek mentorship from experienced female colleagues, but making assumptions can easily set us up for failure when dealing with any co-worker. When we let go of preconceived beliefs about particular employees, we can better cultivate an environment where people feel comfortable opening up about their own experience, inexperience, knowledge or lack of knowledge about a host of issues, including gender equality.
I’ve found that the best teachers create conversation instead of lecturing, and in order to create an open dialogue, we first have to create space where these conversations can flourish. When a mentee feels comfortable admitting that they need help with their work or an office conflict, they also feel as if they have permission to ask for help relating to their co-workers and establishing healthy and productive professional relationships.
Steer the conversation.
When I want to change the status quo, I take control of the conversation. So much of effective leadership is about educating through our own stories, our own successes and failures, and setting expectations illustrated by experience. Women have a huge opportunity to capitalize on the social and emotional aspect of teamwork through leading by example.
By sharing our own narratives, we invite others to do the same. There is a vital social aspect of work environments which, when overlooked, can drastically reduce individual and group performance. By taking the time to ask an employee how they’re doing in a way that says “How are you, I see you, what’s going on with work?” we can enhance the health and resilience of each employee as well as an entire team.
If we want our workplace to reflect a more gender-neutral environment we must create the space by leading the conversation through mentoring men and women equally. I believe it’s equally – if not more – important for women to support male colleagues, especially by ascending into more mentorship roles. When women are underrepresented in a business, the entire business suffers. The experience and wisdom we have to offer works to everyone’s empowerment.
Having mentored men, I’ve adopted a more optimistic view of the future. In my experience, many professional, intelligent men want to understand how to better learn from and relate to their female colleagues, but they don’t necessarily know how to ask for that kind of insight or training, and I often see them genuinely perplexed when they step out of bounds. It often takes an experienced female colleague or mentor to steer them in the right direction.
Lead from where you stand.
You don’t have to be an executive to assume a leadership or mentorship role in your company. Igniting change in your environment can truly start with showing up to work as the best version of you right now. Whether you’re just starting your career or you’re a seasoned veteran navigating your path in a new company, each of us plays an important role in creating the matrix that’s the foundation of our company’s culture.