Women and mentorship
Mentoring is a topic I have been hearing a lot about. At work we are looking into the kind of mentor program the Navy has. It was discussed at length at the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium and again at a Regional Women’s Leadership Conference held in Miami. Mentoring continues to be a hot topic because as an article in the Toronto Star points out, there is a link between success and having a mentor. This relationship opens doors, allows someone to network with people in power, and teaches people about the subtleties and nuances of the organizational culture.
Because of all the benefits having a mentor provides, it would make sense to want a mentor. The mentor mentee relationship is similar to friendships in that they occur naturally. They are not forced. The best relationship is one that develops through informal means as opposed to one in a formal mentor program where an individual is assigned a mentor.
There is a downside for women as Peter Northouse points out in his book Leadership: Theory and Practice. Women have more difficulty than men establishing these informal mentor relationships. Reading that caused me to pause for a moment to try and identify a reason why. The answer was so simple. Informal mentor relationships usually do not develop in the workplace, they take place outside of work.
Women with family obligations do not have the time to dedicate to developing these types of extra curricular relationships. Going to “hang out” after work just does not fit in the schedule. Picking up kids, making dinner, and maintaining other domestic duties after the work-day does not allow for much free time. Most of the women I know try to get some special time to themselves working out or reading to name a few. But those moments of free time are fleeting so spending it with people from work may not be ideal.
Another hurdle women face in spending time outside of work with co-workers is the perception factor. It is unfortunate but if a woman spends time with male co-workers people may attribute the relationship to an affair or sleeping their way to the top.
These relationships develop easily and naturally for men. It is because it falls in line with normal organizational culture. If mentor mentee relationships start in bars or on golf courses what is a woman to do?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question. Learning to play golf might be the answer for some. But be open to networking and opportunities that come up. Find people who have navigated the obstacles you currently face with your career. Finding a mentor may just mean redefining the traditional image and finding someone who is honest with you and fits your needs.