Women face a long and difficult climb to the top of their field. However, some familiar names like Oprah Winfrey, Laverne Cox, and Viola Davis are examples of accomplished women from diverse backgrounds. What they have in common is having the help of female mentors on their journey to success.
Women are increasingly demanding more from work. They want to work at companies that are flexible, prioritize employee well-being and foster diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
In this article, we will explain why mentorship is crucial to developing the potential of female employees. We will also touch on how women-identifying employees can go about finding a mentor in their workplace.
Is there a lack of female mentors in the workplace?
Although there has been modest growth in representation over the past eight years, women, especially women of color, are still significantly underrepresented in the corporate world. The difference is glaring in senior leadership, where just one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only 1 in 20 is a woman of color, according to the women in the workplace 2022 report by McKinsey.
In short, there is a lack of female mentors in the workplace, not because women don’t desire mentorship. In fact, women want to support other women because they have benefited immensely from their own mentoring experiences. The issue is the lack of women in leadership positions, as we’ve stated. Although that is changing, it’s slow.
What can your workplace do to encourage more female mentorship?
Female mentorship in the workplace is vital to closing the gender gap in career development and corporate leadership.
Women face distinct challenges, such as gender bias and discrimination, sexism, harassment and unrealistic expectations for work-life balance. Women leaders are more likely to have experienced these challenges and can serve as role models for junior leaders or female employees.
Below, we will outline 5 ideas for workplaces to generate more female mentors:
1. Promote female mentorship as a key to business success
Mentorship allows mentees to form meaningful relationships and network with female leaders within the organization. Building social capital at work becomes easier when a woman has a female role model to look up to. However, this can only happen if HR and other administrative professionals actively promote and support woman-to-woman mentorship.
Businesses can achieve a gender-diversified C-suite through women-focused mentorship programs. Through a mutual exchange of knowledge and experience, mentors and mentees can stay in touch with their respective sections of the organization. They also pass on the baton of mentorship at the end of their relationship. The company ultimately builds a culture of knowledge-sharing and support for female employees' professional development.
2. Create avenues for women to advance to leadership positions through mentorship
Women want to achieve career progression, but they don’t have role models that look like them in top positions. If companies don’t reward talent with progress, they risk losing their existing female leaders and the next generation of female leaders. Women, like their male counterparts, aspire to senior-level roles. They also place a premium on working in an environment that is fair, supportive, and inclusive.
Michelle Ferguson, author of Women Mentoring Women, explains why pairing every women with a female leader doesn't always make sense. If your organization doesn't have enough female mentors, here's what to do.
Michelle shares best practices for supporting ERGs through mentorship. Watch the full conversation for in-depth and advice.
When you have more women at the top, there will be more mentors for junior employees who are women. Also, the mentees will aspire to become mentors themselves. This kick-starts a virtuous cycle.
3. Raise awareness around the importance of female mentorship in the workplace
According to a global study on women in business and mentoring, women are not actively seeking mentors. Although 78% of women in senior positions have been formal mentors, few of them have had formal mentors. 63% of the women surveyed reported they had never had a formal mentor. What can we glean from this? It shows a huge development gap. Although two-thirds of the women consider mentorship vital to their career growth, there just aren’t enough female mentors to support the demand.
To change this, you can raise awareness by organizing seminars and workshops on the importance of female mentors and how to find them. Encourage female employees to be mentors and mentees to each other. Here are some mentorship program ideas and pairing formats to learn more about starting a formal program.
Also, we have a post featuring over 10 real-world examples of successful mentorship programs, many of which are female-focused.
4. Set up a formal mentorship program exclusive to female employees
Besides encouraging knowledge-sharing and support among female employees, set them up for success by creating a formal mentorship program.
A formal mentorship program shows you’re committed to employee growth and success. You will attract the right talent, and retention will improve. You should make professional mentors out of the human capital you already have in your organization.
5. Spread awareness around ingrained bias
Women are often subjected to hidden and clear bias from both males and fellow females in the workplace. Ingrained bias is a result of unconscious cultural influence, where women are considered less valuable to the workforce. They are viewed as not committed to the organization because of family commitments and responsibilities.
Actively encouraging open discussions around bias and bullying will encourage women to aim for seats at the table. Also, leaders should offer to mentor women to show solidarity and set examples for the company as a whole.
Advice for female mentors to support women identifying colleagues
Pat Mitchell was the first female president of CNN productions and PBS. One of her many other accomplishments is being a passionate mentor. Here’s what she has to say about helping other women succeed:
“By activating mentorship, we can advance more women in their work and help them access capital and economic opportunities they might miss otherwise. We are also preparing them for opportunities to come.”
Here are 5 tips for women mentors to support other female employees at work:
- Have a reason that constantly motivates you: As you move up the corporate ladder, commit to being a positive influence and advocate for the success of other women. Become a mentor and sponsor to junior colleagues as a way of giving back and supporting them to reach their full potential.
- Keep communication open and supportive: Accept honest feedback on your performance as a mentor. This will help you improve in future roles in a similar capacity. It will also make mentees comfortable around you and willing to share their problems and progress.
- Be their role model: Set an example by speaking up at meetings and sharing your ideas. With confidence, show that you deserve a seat at the table. This will inspire other women.
- Celebrate Women's achievements: Women are more likely to attribute their successes to getting lucky, help from others or some external factor. Assure them it is their hard work that paid off. Don’t let accomplishments go unnoticed, celebrate them.
- Champion the cause of women: The business world is already an uneven playing ground for women. It doesn’t help that most women doubt their abilities too. Delegate key assignments to women and recommend them for promotions and raises to lift them up. This is core to sponsorship programs.
Read the 7 steps to support female mentorship at work for more ideas.
Want to start a mentorship program for women? Start here
One key feature of companies with a large percentage of women in C-level positions is their support for senior executives mentoring women at lower levels. The conclusion is that formal mentoring programs help women find the right mentor.
One in three women reported frequently being asked to be formal mentors in an organization with a formal mentoring program. This contrasts with less than one in five women (18%) at organizations without a formal program. A formal program not only institutionalizes mentoring but also fosters a culture that encourages women to mentor each other.