Newly-Released Research Findings: How and Why Relationships with Managers and Mentors Matter

Late last year, WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. published an Impact Report, Managers & Mentors: Their Vital Role in Advancing Female Talent, detailing the findings of our surveys of talented women, their managers and their mentors. In all, over 7500 individuals from top organizations were surveyed to assess how relationships with managers and mentors are impacting the development and advancement of women in Fortune 1000 and other major corporations.

Moving the Needle: Impact of this Significant Research

Based on the surveys, and on WOMEN Unlimited’s ongoing involvement with major organizations, we see six major action steps needed to increase female representation at the highest organizational levels:

 1. Corporate cultures continue to adapt to the 21st Century need for diversity and move towards conscious inclusion at all levels

2. CEOs have a clear diversity agenda and communicate it organization-wide

3. Managers provide the same specific developmental feedback to women as they do to men

4. Women take on added responsibility for their development, seeking out both feedback and career-advancing relationships

5. Organizations develop specific parameters and metrics for measuring diversity and inclusion initiatives

6. All key players understand that there is no “one size fits all” and that development of female talent must be customized by industry, geography and individual corporate needs

I am happy to share with you the major highlights of our findings, which are fully detailed in Managers & Mentors: Their Vital Role in Advancing Female Talent:

Manager / Female Talent Relationships:

Mixed results in advancing women’s careers

The relationship between women and their managers is arguably the most significant factor in women advancing to top leadership roles. Surveys of over 5,000 high-potential women and their managers showed how in some cases these relationships help, and in others thwart, the advancement of female talent.

  • Managers, especially male managers, tend to believe the development and support of women in their organizations, is more robust than the women themselves believe.
  • Women tend to not advocate sufficiently for themselves. As a result, women, along with their managers, must more actively speak up for their advancement. It is not a one-way street.
  • The absence of feedback thwarts the advancement of women. Managers, as the gatekeepers for women’s success, must move away from the generalizations and clichés that currently define the majority of feedback and move to more specific career-advancing recommendations. Feedback needs to be honest, specific and frequent. Additionally, women must be more willing to seek out feedback and be more willing to act on it, even when it is challenging to them.
  • Managers and organizations often are not taking real, measurable steps to be more consciously inclusive. They must acknowledge the role of corporate culture in advancing or holding back the development of female talent and address it by measuring progress and results.

The Mentor / Mentee Relationship:

Women less likely to forge career-advancing relationships

With over 2500 high-potential women and their mentors surveyed, the research shows

women are less likely to forge the relationships that advance their careers than their male colleagues.  They often stay stuck, especially early in their careers, in the misguided notion that hard work alone will get them to leadership roles.  

Our findings point to the importance of productive mentoring relationships, not just for the mentees, but for mentors and organizations.

  • When women act intentionally to develop mentoring relationships and act on the knowledge and insights they gain from these relationships, they are significantly more likely to advance their careers
  • Women benefit from having both male and female mentors
  • Through mentoring, male leaders gain greater insight and empathy into the challenges women face in advancing their careers
  • Mentors reported that mentoring relationship made them more adept at providing needed feedback, at better supporting the development of their female team members and at championing talented women in their organization

Receive your complimentary copy of Managers & Mentors: Their Vital Role in Advancing Female Talent for full details of our research findings and those of other leading organizations.