Women bring to the table a smorgasbord of talents and skills which over the past 20 years have elevated them to executive positions in unprecedented numbers. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that women are still grossly under represented at the highest levels of major corporations. In my 19 years of working with women aspiring to get ahead—I have observed a pattern I believe holds talented women back. Many…in fact, most women… fail to understand the crucial role of mentoring in business. They do not develop and nurture the relationships with mentors that will take their careers where they want them to go. On the flip side, mentors often don’t usher along their mentees as productively as they might.
Eventually, on their own, or through skills learned at programs or seminars, most talented women find one or more mentors. That’s great, but it’s only step one, and a baby step at that. What happens afterwards often short circuits even the most promising careers. Both mentees and their mentors fail to flex their mentoring muscle and the glass ceiling stays solidly in place. Some examples:
- A woman taps her mentor’s functional expertise, but does not call on her mentor to help her navigate the often tricky organizational landscape
- A woman waits until she is well along in her career to develop a mentoring relationship, putting her at a disadvantage with her male colleagues, who tend to forge these relationships early on
- A mentor is reticent to point out potentially derailing behaviors in her leadership and management style to the mentee
- Mentees do not reach out to their mentors frequently enough for fear they may be “bothering” them or “imposing” upon them
- Both mentors and mentees often keep the relationship at the transactional rather than the transformational level (such as talking about tasks rather than goals), which stymies the changes in behavior a talented woman needs to become a top executive
It’s also crucial to keep in mind that when it comes to mentors—more is not better. The quality of the mentor relationship is far more important than the quantity. In fact, too many mentors can seriously impede the process of what a mentor/mentee relationship should really be about. Mentees must take responsibility for fostering a relationship beyond the superficial so that there is a comfort level on both sides for hearing and telling the truth about needed changes for success. Building that kind of relationship takes time and effort—already in short supply—and virtually impossible to achieve with a number of mentors.
The failure to nurture mentoring relationships has serious consequences for both individuals and corporations. Talented women stay in the shadows instead of the spotlight, while corporations lose the contributions of a stalled talent pool.
Our WOMEN Unlimited programs work hard at making sure our attendees “get it” when it comes to finding, using, and fostering mentor relationships. We also provide mentors with practical, proven guidelines on how to be there constructively for their mentees. We are proud of the success of our multi-faceted approach to mentoring, which we measure by the success our alumnae bring to their corporations. Take a moment to take a look at why our mentoring programs work so well.
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.