Summer is coming and with it, interns and recent graduates who will soon take on their first career experiences. Early career hires have been told for decades to seek mentors that will help propel their careers. In a corporate setting, these mentors are often male, simply because there are so few senior women in leadership or management positions. Even with the increased attention to diversity and inclusion in the past few years, women still represent only 36 percent of first or mid-level management positions at S&P 500 companies.
How do we change that number? By modeling a new and deliberate mentoring behavior. It’s time for women to mentor men. Cultural change requires us to change attitudes that are deeply ingrained. Changing corporate norms isn’t a top-down change effort — it’s a bottom-up and inside-out, practiced effort.
Mentoring is a core element of professional and personal development. When someone starts a new job or career, a mentor is a great way to accelerate the transition process. In fact, receiving a mentor is often part of the orientation process. First-timers in the workplace rely on mentors to help them make the transition from student to contributor. A good mentor teaches their mentee to navigate the unspoken rules of work and corporate culture. They advocate for their mentee and plant the seeds of a network that can fast-track growth and development. In my experience, this first mentor is almost always the same gender as the new employee, which can give men a network advantage in the workplace.
In 2017, nearly 60 percent of all college graduates were women. Women comprised 47 pecent of the U.S. labor force and 51 percent of the U.S. population — but only 6 percent of CEOs. Now that we’ve closed the education and the experience gap, why are women still shut out from C-suite? I believe it’s because we don’t have much practice seeing women as business leaders.
With so many businesses still male-dominated, we don’t have much of an opportunity to witness female leaders in action. Yet when women are in management positions, we expect men to be comfortable working with women leaders and to understand the way that women lead. But there’s a culture difference that occurs with female leadership. Women leaders tend to be collaborative and inclusive, and they work to build concise arguments before drawing conclusions.
Without exposure and education, this approach can be misinterpreted as a lack of decisiveness or conviction. A great place to start is at the beginning — on his first day of work. Gender parity will take effort from both men and women. We must look for ways to engage early career men with women leaders. Women should make up 50 percent of the recruiting and orientation process, and men should be paired with a female mentor. This elevates the message that the organization believes in equality from the start.
The emergence of the millennial generation in the workforce is a crucial factor in making the cultural change possible today. Thousands of baby boomers reach retirement age every day, and millennials are replacing them. Now is the time to encourage millennial men, who by many accounts are already open and willing to support the cultural changes necessary to drive equality in the workplace.
For centuries, men have pulled each other up and along the career ladder. There is evidence of these formal and informal mentoring relationship all around us. These relationships result in power — sustained power. Women must tap into this power and build a culture that supports everyone by demonstrating equality in leadership.
There are broad implications for the growing numbers of women in the workplace. The talent pool is changing. Study after study tells us that women in leadership drive positive results at the bottom line, in team dynamics, in innovation and in workplace culture.
We can impact this change in corporate culture by taking specific and deliberate action. Match young professional men with female leaders in a mentoring relationship. Demand that those female leaders champion both young men and women, teach them and help them understand how women lead. Reward and hold those mentor-mentee relationships up as best practice in the organization. Allow the men and women in your organization to see and experience the power and impact of female leadership firsthand. Set specific goals for women leaders to formally mentor early career women and men. It will take all of us to change corporate culture for the better.