Attention Ladies: Male Mentoring Matters


By Ollie Field

I don’t think it matters how old you are, Legally Blonde is a source of inspiration and female empowerment for generations of women. Elle Woods fearlessly broke through the glass ceiling (an invisible barrier hindering women’s success) from her sorority house to Harvard Law School because, “What? Like it’s hard?” and demonstrated that women can be both feminine and successful. Woods did encounter obstacles, however, such as that creep of a mentor, Professor Callahan.

Speaking of mentors….

Kelli Holmes’s 2013 review of scholarly research defines a mentor as a “high ranking, influential senior organizational member with advanced experience and knowledge, committed to providing upward mobility and support to a protégée’s professional career.” One of the conclusions of her review is that a lack of mentors for women directly contributes to glass ceiling.

Why is there a lack of mentors? Well, Holmes cites a number of reasons.

First, let’s start with the numbers. 2.2% of Fortune-500 CEOs and 1 in 5 senior managers are women. That puts a lot of pressure on just a few women to mentor all of us up-and-coming stars.

But why should the pressure be on those few women? Holmes’ research indicates that mentors choose their protégées based on how they personally identify with them – male CEOs and managers are more likely to have common interests with younger male employees. (It’s called the principle of homophily, we’ve talked about it before.)

To make matters worse, the research also showed that some male mentors are afraid of forming a close relationship with a female protégée, because it could be mistaken as sexual rather than professional. Likewise, female employees are hesitant to seek out male mentors for fear of the same sexual misunderstanding. Apparently, Elle’s touchy experience with Professor Callahan isn’t just a thing for the movies.

Despite the difficulty of finding a mentor, it is so worth it. Holmes found that mentors take on two very important functions; they provide career guidance, such as sponsorship and coaching, and provide psychological support by being there as a counselor and friend.

In fact, Forret and Dougherty conducted a survey study in 2004 and found a positive correlation between having a mentor, compensation, and rate of promotion. This was especially true among women with male mentors compared to males with male mentors and females with female mentors.

…Is this saying that you should only go find yourself a male mentor to be successful? Of course not. Instead, it emphasizes the number of men in high-level positions, with more professional influence and a greater tendency to take on a mentor role.

So for you ladies in power positions:

Whether you’re a CEO or simply a member of a local club, know that your power and authority comes with responsibility. Remember that other women are looking for guidance, and even if it isn’t apparent, they see you as a leader. Offer your words of wisdom or go as far as to offer yourself as a mentor.

And for those of you who need some guidance in your life… Follow these three steps suggested by Forbes to find a mentor:

  1. Ask yourself what you want in a mentor.
  2. Check out your employer’s human resources department to see if they have a mentorship program.
  3. Look outside of the office, too. A mentor doesn’t have to be limited to a “business” relationship.

And finally, don’t forget what Elle said…


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