Let’s face it, mentorship is hard to do well. It requires safety, vulnerability and trust between two people, regardless of gender, age, or any other factor. But in the age of #metoo, it’s clear that men still need help. Gentleman…brothers, here are some tips:
Tip 0: Nothing has changed. The golden rule applies to how to treat men and women in the workplace. The secret is f-
Tip 1: Do similar things It’s appropriate to do the same (appropriate) activities that you do with men as you do with other women would do with other men in a similar role. If going to a strip club falls into this category, that’s not mentorship – even it includes exposure to new contacts and access to new relationships. It’s definitely something, but it’s not leadership or mentorship.
There is no problem with investing in your mentee. Spending time and having an open dialogue is where the secret sauce is in the relationship. That said, your behaviors and actions should mirror your behaviors and actions you would take if the mentee was male. If you only mentor during business hours with men, do the same with a woman. Now, if you invite male mentees to a game or to join you on the golf course, then those are fair venues to invite a woman (unless you know she doesn’t play golf). If she loves/hates golf, act accordingly. If a male mentor told you he hated playing and stunk at the game, I bet you’d find another activity that would be mutually enjoyable. Women like sports, women like having a drink, women like food, and women like fundraisers and benefits just as much as men do.
Tip 2: Build safety. An important key to any mentor/mentee relationship is to build a feeling between the mentor and mentee that says, “we are safe here”. If that is violated in any way by either side, the relationship doesn’t work, regardless of the genders involved. Getting to that safe place requires an investment in vulnerability, engaging with the person in an individualized way (not canned) and take a long view for the relationship – a “we’re in this together for the long haul” mindset. Neither leadership nor mentorship is transactional. It’s not a quid pro quo pursuit.
Tip 3: Rebalance your portfolio. If you’ve only mentored men, other women will see that and look to someone with experience mentoring women. The only way to bend that trajectory is to start mentoring women too. Find someone you connect well with an offer to be a sounding board and mentor. If you have something valuable to offer someone else for their career development and present it to them authentically and with their best interest at heart, the recipient of your offer to mentor will be accepted.
Tip 4: Don’t give advice that you wouldn’t also give to a man. If you wouldn’t tell a man that his looks, figure, or appearance could be a factor in their success, then it shouldn’t be part of the dialogue with a woman either. Of course, there are some exceptions, but in the professional workplace, few.
Tip 5: Don’t ignore questions or deflect jabs that come from other men. If you are teased or asked, “what’s up?” about your coffee meeting with a female mentee, don’t avoid or deflect that question. That kind of avoidance is full of inappropriate innuendo. Instead, answer it with authenticity. “We’ve set up a mentor/mentee relationship and we’ve chosen to meet periodically to exchange ideas. She has potential and is being smart and authentic about learning our business. I might have her speak with you to learn more about X”. If you entertain the innuendo in the question, you’re giving fuel to the fact that the relationship could be about something different. That sends a signal that you’re a bad apple and a manipulator.
Tip 6: Combine forces. If you’re on the fence and apprehensive about managing or mentoring another professional, who happens to be female, consider partnering up with another female executive with whom you have a good relationship. Be honest and offer to be a resource to any women she’s serving as a mentor for. It’s the childcare responsibility of being an Aunt (fun but no real commitment). It will also earn you some authentic credibility and give you experience mentoring a woman before you embark on your own one-on-one mentorship relationship.
Tip 7: Build courage. Courage comes from a willingness to be vulnerable. While it’s true that women and men tend to respond differently to stimuli, it’s not a hard and fast rule. There are plenty of men that cry when overwhelmed. There are plenty of women who are out of touch with their feelings. Lots of men have issues with scarcity and fear. Figure out what your people need and help them find it! A crafted approach respects the individual, whether it’s a woman or a man.
Eli Howayeck (MBA, Kellogg School of Management), Founder and CEO of Crafted Career Concepts, is passionate about helping motivated people achieve their career, educational, or personal goals and helping businesses, large and small, overcome a variety of challenges facing their business.