We cannot reach parity without male engagement, as evidenced by the little progress women have made in the workplace over the last few decades.
I love the idea behind the #MentorHer campaign, which urges men to commit to mentoring women. The goal is to bring more women into leadership roles typically reserved for white men, by disrupting the old boys’ club. The old boys’ club refers to the virtuous cycle of older white men mentoring and advancing younger white men, which is how many of the best roles and projects within an organization are currently staffed.
The #MentorHer campaign was created after a survey found more than half of male managers are reluctant to participate in common work activities with women, after widespread awareness of sexual harassment. Founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit, Lean In, this campaign has its heart in the right place.
However, the will to mentor women doesn’t simply lead to more women advancing in corporate careers. In fact, a study found more women (83 percent) had at least one mentor compared with men (76 percent).
If not lack of mentorship for women, what explains the gender disparities in the upper echelons of the workplace? Men are 46 percent more likely than women to have a sponsor.
Mentoring and sponsoring — aren’t they the same thing? Well, no. I have an example from my own career.
As a rookie journalist, I had some incredible mentors — men and women — who gave me great general advice and a shoulder to cry on. But when I had a career in technology, I had a male sponsor who strongly advocated for my success. He would recommend my name for key projects, encourage me to share my “wins” that ended up heightening my visibility across departments, and connect me with key influencers.
Part of it was my luck in having a great manager. But having an organizational structure that required one-on-ones between managers and direct reports also facilitated that. Unfortunately, many industries and companies don’t have a culture that encourages these important face-to-face meetings. I certainly hadn’t experienced it in my years as a journalist. Most employees only get face time with managers to discuss point-in-time problems, not larger career goals.
Still, one-one-ones without structure are not the silver bullet to advance women. Within the technology industry, more managers must be trained on how to conduct effective one-on-one meetings, and be equipped with learning on how to propel the careers of women forward. Women face unique challenges to success that are different from their male counterparts.
When it comes to addressing a possible increase in sexual harassment through sponsorship across genders, I would argue that when companies create clearly defined opportunities for men to champion women, there’s a lesser chance of it.
When I interviewed Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the foremost expert on this subject for my book, she cited a key example of how company-structured sponsorship plays out. She pointed to Morgan Stanley where previously, newly minted female managing directors never met the very senior men. So the company organized a carefully planned monthly breakfast where senior leaders and newly promoted female managing directors would meet, with a structured agenda to showcase the new managing directors’ talents. Hewlett told me that through this move, “sponsorship flourished. They just needed a venue to showcase each other’s abilities.”
There is an urgent need for men to act as champions for women, across all industries. We cannot reach parity without male engagement, as evidenced by the little progress we have made in the workplace over the last few decades. But simply requiring men to “mentor her” without the necessary tools and organizational support to do so would be just as futile.