Mentoring Matters: Valuing Women in Business
Angela Sprowls | 2019
In a recent interview with author Gillian Zoe Segal, mega-investor, business influencer, and Berkshire-Hathaway owner Warren Buffet said,
One of the best things you can do in life is to surround yourself with people who are better than you are. High-grade people. You will end up behaving more like them, and they, in turn, will get it back from you.
Buffet believes that integrity and good character drive the success of most businesspeople. Buffet also believes that through mentoring and connecting with the people one admires most, one benefits from their teaching and influence. This influence allows leaders to pay-it-forward as a future executive or influencer within the organization.
Like Buffet, many company leaders and organizations are embracing mentoring as a “secret weapon” to develop leaders, retain talent, influence high-performers, and promote dynamic achievers. This manuscript aims to justify utilizing mentoring to battle retention issues and influence women as mentors and protégés within organizations. Mentoring is a specific tool that can improve individual and organizational performance, and many women have been able to break through the “glass ceiling” with the support of solid mentorship. There can be formal or informal mentoring relationships, both of which require similar commitment and engagement by the participants.
Mentoring and coaching are often terms used interchangeably. However, while mentoring and coaching have similar characteristics, each are quite different in practice. This manuscript defines both mentoring and coaching and goes on to clarify the value of mentoring, specifically for women, as a tool to promote, retain, and advance women in the workplace. There are specific situations when coaching and mentoring can be effectively utilized to maximize the efficiencies of each.
The mentoring relationship is a unique one and evolves as the mentee and mentor both grow and develop in each of their respective roles. There are specific mentor competencies needed to be an active mentor. Leadership style and emotional intelligence each affect the mentoring relationship as well, influencing how the mentee receives feedback and responds. Research conducted by the author found little influence on gender between the pairing of mentor and protégé. It instead found that both the mentor and mentee need to be committed to the outcomes expected of the mentorship as the relationship progresses through various phases. A successful mentoring relationship is based on trust, emotional intelligence, commitment, accountability, and engagement.
Organizations such as PayPal and 3M understand the value of mentoring for employees, managers, and senior leaders. General Motors CEO Mary Barra knows first-hand how influential having, and later being, a mentor can be, particularly when her experience is primarily in a male-dominated workforce. An important element of the mentoring relationship is the pairing of the mentor and the mentee, as Barra discussed in a recent interview with Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School.
There are mentors in the workspace all around you—peers, the seasoned professional, your supervisor, the supervisor one desk over… People often reach out saying, ‘Will you be my mentor?’ And I say, ‘Let’s talk about that, because the better person to be your mentor in the organization is someone who sees you every day, someone who knows you at your best, and someone who can give you opportunities to improve.’ So, I always redirect them: Find mentors in the people around you who you respect.
When top organizational leaders support mentoring and value it as Barra does, mentoring programs have a high probability of success. This manuscript explores the experiences of several ‘real-life’ examples of women who have benefited from mentoring as well as high-profile organizational leaders such as Barra.
Mentoring is evolving as technology evolves, resulting in digital options to expand mentoring relationships beyond the face-to-face interactions of traditional mentoring. Many organizations are utilizing virtual mentoring and algorithm pairing in mentoring programs, utilizing a program manager to have oversight of the curriculum and ensure its effectiveness. There are common pitfalls to avoid in mentoring programs, such as incorrect pairing of mentor and mentee and lack of rigor in the program, that can be avoided through strategic program development.
Overall, mentoring has allowed many organizations to develop, retain, and promote people within the business. Women benefit from mentoring when the relationship is based on trust and there is a commitment from both the mentor and mentee to further advance the mentee. Using mentoring to promote organizational effectiveness is a reliable solution to engage employees and break the stereotype of top organizational positions being primarily held by men.
Gillian Zoe Segal, Getting There: A Book of Mentors (New York, NY: Abrams, 2015), 16.
Adam Grant, “Keynote Discussion: Mary Barra with Adam Grant: 2018 Wharton People Analytics Conference,” YouTube, May 9, 2018, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao-JHsRhocg.