Traditionally males are promoted more frequently than females, especially early in their career, this often means that woman get off to a slower start on the corporate ladder and this initial setback can lead to a lifetime of playing catch-up. This inequality is not always down to a lack of career opportunities for woman but often some other organizational bias resulting in more males being promoted than females, sexism still exists and there is also an apprehension amongst some woman to really go for senior positions, this is something that will be explored in a little more detail later. This inequality can be tackled by an effective mentoring program.
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 paygrade or rank, in fact restricting mentorship programs to certain groups or paygrades 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 end goal of almost any company is the bottom line and making 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:
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 organisation more profitable but at the same time not having that level of diversity will lead to your playing catch up in terms of ROI and profitability. Now there is a stat that everyone from middle management to shareholders will understand!
It is 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.
At the moment the relationship between diversity and profitability is still an area which has been heavily researched and 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 just down to the individuals involved.
An additional challenge faced by an organization trying to push woman up through the ranks, especially at the higher levels is quite often women do not aspire to be top executives, Womanintheworkplace.com reported that in a survey of all men vs all woman only 33% of the woman aspired to become a top executive whereas the figure was 45% of males. This means a portion of woman are absolutely career and promotion-driven and while they will benefit from the support of a mentoring program to help them unlock their goals, if organizations really want to strike that gender diverse balance in the workplace they actually need to provide encouragement to women to focus more on moving up in the ranks.
It is likely not going to be enough to simply provide a mentoring program to women who want to climb the ranks, 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 lots of companies at the moment and it is a really attractive proposition to the current wave of graduates and millennials entering the workforce. A focus on the work like balance (one of the biggest misconceptions of operating “at the top” is that you won’t have time for your personal life) can really help here. Some examples of recent perks offered to try to combat some of the negativity around “life at the top” include:
- Subsidized child care
- Extended maternity leave
- Relaxation of corporate dress codes
- Extended vacation time
- Extra paid leave for newlyweds
- Job sharing
- Working for 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 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 woman (and other minorities, however, that is out of scope for this post, you can expect more on that subject later!) has been proven to have, amongst other things, two benefits:
An improved rate of employee retention (for the mentor as well as the mentored as acting in the role of a mentor is actually rewarding).
Engaging employees in their first 45 days is said to be one of the most effective ways of ensuring employee retention.
Mentored woman are better equip with the skills, characteristics and knowledge and understanding needed to move more quickly up the organisational ladder
With the two points above working in combination, it quickly becomes obvious that a mentoring program is an effective way of pushing women up through the ranks within your organization which, if you start today, could have them ready to enter C level just as the current c-suite are ready to retire.
Formal Female Mentoring Programs
Some of the best corporate mentoring programs in the workplace today are run by forward-thinking companies such as Paypal and Netsuite but that doesn’t mean you need a Silicon Valley tech company or startup to implement an effective mentoring program. In fact, these companies falling into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries 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, however, the likelihood of group of younger woman entering the workforce at graduate level entry positions having regular and trusted access to someone in a very senior position is low and 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 which are critical to the success of any program.
Research by DDLWorld found that 63% of woman 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 woman had acted in a mentorship role in some capacity.
The above figures highlight that woman are willing to take on the role of a mentor (further research shows that they even 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 figures are not asked to play the role of a mentor is not known, further research is needed here but it is likely down to the awkwardness of approaching and asking someone to mentor them or possibly a fear of rejection. Generally speaking, 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 communications, 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.
Importance Of Female Mentors & Female Mentoring Programs
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.
Regardless of if an organization decides to try to promote diversity at entry level with a recruitment initiative or focuses on encouraging diversity at higher levels with employee retention or promotion initiatives an influx in women or increase in the number of engaged women already in the organisation looking for a female mentor can lead to a sudden increase in the demands on the time of the few existing female employees higher up in the organization.
STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) which currently have very few women with the credentials to step into mentoring roles are particularly vulnerable to overexposure of the top woman in the organization to 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 setup to ensure that any program underpinned by software fits with industry-wide best practices to keep the program on track. This will enable 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 which 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 relationship 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 do their part, now its time for companies to take responsibility and do their part too. To truly achieve diversity and equality companies have to turn the good intentions, ideas and pipe dreams into action. Start with the basics and engage employees early, the first 45 days are critical.
Closing the gender gap 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 do not want to be playing catch up with your competitors who reap the rewards of adopting an effective diversity strategy early.