By Andrea Clarke
I think every young, working woman would agree the #MeToo campaign was wildly overdue. As a former television news reporter in a capital city with a dozen #MeToo moments of my own, I fully endorse predators being exposed.
When I consider all my major career moves, they were each made possible by a handful of men whose ongoing support, mentorship and sponsorship created real and lasting opportunity for me. These guys have been candid in their counsel, consistently respectful and relentlessly encouraging in their belief of me.
At times of deep fear in taking a non-traditional career path, they’ve made me feel like I could take the gamble and have it pay off. Mentoring matters.
Unfortunately, there is data and anecdotal information to indicate #MeToo has brought unintentional side effects that may hinder the progress of working women, and, as someone travelling the country helping young women communicate with authority to boost their chances at promotion, this is worrying to see. The majority of senior management roles in Australia are still occupied by men, it cannot be left to the smaller number of female senior leaders to mentor all younger women.
I often work with women in large, male-dominated companies, and am hearing plenty of first hand stories from good male leaders reporting they are “too scared” to take young women under their wings.
This phenomenon is backed up by research conducted internationally, including by Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org, which has found the number of senior men who are “uncomfortable” mentoring women has more than tripled, from five to 16 per cent of male managers in the US now hesitate to mentor a woman.
Australian reports reflect the same shifts in attitude, with 25 per cent of men feeling nervous about working alone with a female colleague, according to The Art of Mentoring.
For young women, mentor relationships are about building trust and having the confidence to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly with someone. Discomfort is not enough of a reason for senior men to withdraw from the compact all good executives should keep: to support emerging talent by offering young men and women an open door. Our workforce’s slow journey to gender equality will stall if men cite #MeToo as a reason to step back.
It’s not too difficult to navigate the post-#MeToo workplace world, here’s how to do it:
- Call a team meeting: be clear that you understand the side effects of the movement and voice your desire for women to continue to feel supported.
- Formalise the mentor program in your department: identify a “mentor hub” where all mentoring sessions can take place. Introduce a structured framework. Set specific times and appoint male leads who want to champion change.
- Be transparent about mentor meetings: share your diary and create a transparent team calendar where all mentor meetings are logged.
- Set a code of conduct: clarify the ground rules as set by human resources and the greater business.
- Actively sponsor other types of mentoring: if you’re having informal coffee meetings, then why not formalise them into something more structured?
And when you’re talking to us…
- Understand us: know what we’re good at and the roadblocks that are specific to us in our role.
- Understand blockages in the system: flexibility, hiring process, maternity leave policies.
- Set challenges for us: should we speak at the annual conference? Offer up any ideas that stretch us.
- Connect us: with anyone who can support our development or ambition.
- Provide advice that is specific and skills-based: for example, if we need more commercial acumen, how can we negotiate a better deal with the client?
- Express confidence in us: we inherently question our capability, so we need your reinforcement.
Gents, we know you’re wary, but we need you to lean in. It’s that simple. Mentoring can mean the difference between an average career and an exceptional one, where you leave nothing in the tank. And more broadly, it’s part of building a workplace of the future, where the talents of both genders get the same chance to shine.
Andrea Clarke is a former Washington DC television news correspondent, Iraqi aid worker and the founder of CareerCEO, an executive training program about confidence, communication and career progression for men and women across corporate Australia.