Mentoring for Leadership: How to Best Equip Women for Success

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Mentoring for Leadership: How to Best Equip Women for Success, a webinar sponsored by Chronus, a leader in mentoring software. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart because it focuses on the undeniable importance of mentoring not just for women mentees, but also for mentors and the corporation as a whole.

I focused my discussion on three key areas:

  • Why Gender Diversity Matters
  • Women & Mentoring: The Perfect Match
  • How to Guide Women to Successful Mentoring Relationships

I’d like to share with you the highlights of each section.

Why Gender Diversity Matters

Three statistics, and there are many more, drive home how gender parity pays off in a variety of ways. A Carnegie Melon study shows that when women make up 50% or more of a team, collective intelligence rises above average. A McKinsey Report points out that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity enjoy 15% higher financial returns. And, according to a Catalyst study, companies with the most women on their Boards have 16% higher return on sales.

Unfortunately, there are a number of factors at play impeding the advancement of women to the highest corporate levels. Although many companies are doing a great job of attracting entry-level women into their organization, they are having major problems retaining them at mid-level. The retirement of senior-level baby boomer women is exacerbating the problem, since there are not enough junior women to fill the vacuum their departure creates. That’s why mid-career retention is becoming more and more critical.

Women & Mentoring: The Perfect Match

Based on research, relationship building is most important at that mid-career level and is a major ally to retention. When women build mentoring and other developmental relationships, they are able to more easily shift from tactical to strategic behaviors and to come out of the shadows to be noticed by those who can advance their careers.

However, it is startling to me that a majority of women do not have these much-needed mentoring relationships. Mentoring is a key pillar in our experiential learning programs at WOMEN Unlimited, with many women telling us that they did not previously have mentors.

In my independent qualitative research, I focused on what makes mentoring relationships productive for high potential, mid-career women. The most successful relationships resulted from women who actively prepared for their meetings with their mentors, leveraged the information they received and applied it to corporate relationships. You can read a detailed summary of my research here.

The bottom line is that relationships matter and help women grow, develop and better understand the corporate landscape in which they operate. And it’s not just about one mentor, or one sponsor. Women need to form a personal “board of directors” that challenge them to grow and adapt and stay informed about themselves and their companies.

How to Guide Women to Successful Mentoring Relationships

According to Debebe, and I couldn’t agree more: “Internal change is a critical aspect to fostering women’s leadership growth.” To that end, organizations must espouse a strategy of formal mentoring. However, starting a mentoring program is just the beginning. Organizations must continually work at creating a culture that is conducive to growing the development relationships that help high-potential women reach the highest corporate levels. It’s a long game, not a sprint.

Key points from the Q&A

  • Women need to define their “north star” when preparing to meet their mentors and design their encounters around those defined goals
  • In developing organizational relationships, women should look to those who will help them see the whole picture, challenge their perspectives and increase their over-all organizational awareness
  • There are three major mentoring “derailers”: failing to meet with mentors, pre-judging the mentor, and failing to apply insights gained from mentors.
  • Male vs. female mentors: Both are important. Male mentors provide insights into the male culture. Female mentors help women understand how to navigate the organization as a woman.

These are just the highlights. Please click here to listen to the webinar in its entirety.