Traditionally, males have been promoted more frequently than females, especially early in their careers. This often means that women get off to a slower start as they work to climb the corporate ladder and this initial setback can lead to a lifetime of playing catch-up.
This inequality doesn’t always come down to a lack of career opportunities for women but often is a result of some other organizational bias resulting in more males being promoted than females. Sexism still exists, unfortunately, and there is also an apprehension among some women to actively pursue opportunities for senior positions. This is something that will be explored in more detail later in this post.
An effective mentoring program can help to mitigate this inequality. The importance of starting an effective mentorship from day 1 cannot be overstated. There is no need to delay or restrict mentoring to a certain pay grade or rank. In fact, restricting mentorship programs to certain groups or pay grades is likely going to exclude the people who could benefit from it the most. The purpose of a mentoring program in the workplace is to level the playing field for everyone. Understandably, the top priority of almost any company is the bottom line and making a profit so why should you be concerned with helping women climb the corporate ladder in your organization?
Putting morality and ethics to the side for the moment and focusing purely on the bottom line, a recent study published on McKinsey.com states: Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. However, at the other end of the spectrum they identified that companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).
So, to summarize, having a gender diverse workforce is likely to make your organization more profitable. However, not having that level of diversity will lead to your playing catch up in terms of ROI and profitability. Now that is a stat that everyone from middle management to shareholders will understand!
It’s important to say that the cited study by McKinsey above is simply one of many examples which illustrate why having a diverse organizational structure from top to bottom benefits the organization.
As of now, the relationship between diversity and profitability is still an area which is being heavily researched. There is no golden statistic or magic bullet for the optimal level of diversity in relation to profit. However, any research trying to take things to that level would likely be dismissed as organizationally specific, industry-specific or would just come down to the individuals involved.
An additional challenge faced by an organization trying to push women up through the ranks, especially at the higher levels, is quite often that most women do not aspire to be top executives. Womenintheworkplace.com reported that in a survey of all men vs all women, only 33% of the women aspired to become a top executive whereas the figure for males was 45%. This does mean that a segment of women absolutely are career and promotion-driven. While they’ll benefit from the support of a mentoring program to help them unlock their potential, if organizations really want to strike that gender diverse balance in the workplace, they would be wise to provide encouragement to women who are interested in moving up in the ranks.
It’s likely not going to be enough to simply provide a mentoring program to women who want to move up in the company, organizations must actively encourage this by highlighting the benefits of doing so while also focusing on removing any negative stereotypes around women who may be career focused.
Addressing the negative stereotypes of career-focused people, not just women, is something that is on the radar of a lot of companies at the moment and it’s an attractive proposition to the current wave of graduates and millennials entering the workforce. One of the biggest misconceptions of operating “at the top” is that you won’t have time for your personal life. A focus on work-life balance can really help here. Some examples of recent perks offered to support the ‘life’ part of work-life balance are:
1. Subsidized childcare
2. Extended maternity leave
3. Relaxed corporate dress codes
4. Extended vacation time
5. Extra paid leave for newlyweds
6. Job sharing
8. Working from home
And when considered, taking it back to an ROI perspective, just how much will the above cost to implement? Careful change management will mean that the above can be brought in with minimal disruption. However, employees are far less likely to object to a little disruption caused by the implementation of a working from home scheme than they are if the disruption was down to something more corporate like a new IT system.
Mentoring women (and other minorities, expect more on that topic in future posts!) has been proven to have, amongst other things, two benefits:
1) An improved rate of employee retention for the mentor as well as the mentored. Being a mentor can be quite rewarding and provide reason for that employee to remain with the company. Engaging employees in their first 45 days is said to be one of the most effective ways of ensuring employee retention.
2) Mentored women are better equipped with the skills, characteristics, knowledge and understanding needed to move more quickly up the corporate ladder.
With the two points above working in combination, it quickly becomes obvious that a mentoring program is an effective way of supporting and encouraging women higher through the ranks within your organization. If you start today, these women could be ready to enter C-suite level just as the current C-suite are ready to retire.
Some of the best corporate mentoring programs in the workplace today are run by forward-thinking companies such as Paypal and Netsuite. However, that doesn’t mean you need a Silicon Valley tech company or start-up to implement an effective mentoring program. In fact, the companies falling into the STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) actually face some of the greatest challenges when mentoring women.
Sometimes the value of an organized and company backed mentorship program is questioned by traditionalists who are of the opinion that people should and can build their own networks in the workplace.
Some people are even of the opinion that naturally formed support groups form stronger bonds. The likelihood of a group of younger women entering the workforce in entry-level positions having regular and trusted access to someone in a very senior position is low. This is where the formality of an organization-wide and organizationally backed mentoring program comes into its own.
Formalizing the mentor-led relationship is essential to creating trust and a working bond. These are critical to the success of any program. Research by DDLWorld found that 63% of women had never had a formal mentor, however, they also identified that 67% of women felt that mentorship was critical in advancing their careers. On the other side of the coin, 78% of senior women had acted in a mentorship role in some capacity. The above figures highlight that women are willing to take on the role of a mentor (further research shows that they also enjoy the role), however, it does not always happen.
The main reason cited by women in senior roles as to why they were not acting as a mentor to other women was that they are not asked to do so. The exact reason why senior players are not asked to play the role of a mentor is not known, further research is needed here but it is likely due to the perceived awkwardness of approaching and asking someone to mentor them or possibly a fear of rejection. Women need to be encouraged to seek mentorship.
Mentoring software is a fantastic way of seamlessly encouraging people to seek mentorship. In a world where text messaging is one of the primary methods of communication, people sit next to one another in the office and email one another, and instant messenger is growing in popularity, unobtrusive communication is almost always preferred. It is much easier to request a mentor over the computer than it may be to go and speak to the potential mentor in person, especially if rejection is an inhibiting factor.
A best practice mentoring program needs to consider the needs of the mentee, the organization and also the mentor themselves. Most mentors will not have huge amounts of time, especially initially, to work supporting a mentoring program. Too much demand on a mentor’s time, often caused by a badly managed program or by a particular mentor being too in demand, can lead even the most well-intentioned program to failure.
An organization may decide to try to promote diversity at entry level with a recruitment initiative or may focus on diversity at a higher level through retention or promotion initiatives. An influx of women, or an increase in the number of female employees who are looking for female mentor can lead to a sudden increase in the demands for time from the few existing female employees who are higher up in the organization.
STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) currently have very few women with the credentials to step into mentoring roles. These companies are particularly vulnerable to overexposure and demand for the top women in the organization to participate in mentoring roles. It is important to ensure that a lack of female mentors does not result in a restrictive or elitist mentoring program, as we must not lose sight of the reason for the program’s existence, to promote diversity and equality.
Mentoring software and the support that comes with a well-configured solution can provide a level of guidance and ease of setup to ensure that any program underpinned by software fits with industry-wide best practices to keep the program on track. This will enable the prime candidates for the mentor role to ensure they are not oversubscribed or even inundated with requests. It will also enable a best practice level of efficiency which will, in turn, make sure the time spent working as a mentor is optimized, useful and structured. This will lead to an overall more efficient program. International organizations can particularly benefit from the use of mentoring software to bring people together. While natural working relationships and support groups do form naturally over time, mentoring software can make the formalization of cross-border and international mentorship programs a reality.
Women are more ready than ever to take advantage of opportunities to move up in the workplace. Now it’s time for companies to take responsibility and do their part too. To truly achieve diversity and equality, companies have to turn their good intentions and ideas into action. Start with the basics and engage employees early, the first 45 days are critical. Achieving equal opportunity and equality for both genders is not just something that should be looked at from a moral standpoint, it is financially and economically necessary if a business wants to thrive. Early adopters of successful programs get ahead in business, and you don’t want to be playing catch up with your competitors who reap the rewards of adopting an effective diversity strategy early.