#PressforProgress Through Mentorship

March 8, 2018 #PressforProgress Through Mentorship

Every March 8, millions of people around the world pause to celebrate the achievements and hard-earned victories that countless brave women have won through decades of advocacy and action. Importantly, it’s also a day in which we’re all asked to recommit ourselves in helping advance the fight for women’s rights and gender equality.

Like many men, I’m on a journey to better listen and learn from women about the unique challenges and barriers they face as well as their hopes and aspirations—not just in the workplace, but in their lives. For all of us there is still a great deal left to learn and addressing gender parity will require many solutions.

As we recognize International Women’s Day, I hope that men reading this consider committing to #PressforProgress through mentorship.

This year will be especially poignant. The revelations and the courage of so many women who’ve shared their stories as part of the #MeToo movement have instilled an even greater sense of urgency to act. A call to arms through the #MentorHer initiative asks us men to double down rather than shy away. We need to answer that call.

Yes, this is a moment to do more, but how? It’s clear that the voices, lived experiences, and recommendations of women must guide us. It’s also true that men don’t have the firsthand experience of gender exclusion. That said, empathy, logic, and authenticity can be directed into purposeful action to create opportunity and inclusion. It starts with listening. To learn, so we can do better and show true leadership where welcomed and necessary. Although preventing discrimination, harassment and abuse against women is the highest priority, it’s not the only long-term goal. There are many other steps that men in positions of leadership can take to better empower women in the workplace such as Mentorship, Sponsorship, Coaching and Learning.

For me, this has been a personal journey since first becoming a manager of people, and then it intensified ten years ago when I first really noticed the imbalance on my team and in my company. Two things struck me: if we wanted the best talent, we needed the deepest pool. Strong women candidates create a rich resource for talent. Second, having women in senior leadership positions wasn’t enough; we simply weren’t empowering the talented women throughout our company to lead shoulder to shoulder. The stakes were high. We had a celebrated culture that was winning in the marketplace, but it was drowning out important voices and creating an echo chamber. This could ultimately lead to complacency and a drought of new ideas.

One solution we implemented was mentorship. What initially started as a small program supporting just women grew into a broader one impacting more than 200 women and men a year. Through this experience, I’ve come to believe strongly that men have a responsibility to be open and eager to mentoring, while having a clear understanding of what mentoring is and what it is not, (like managing or coaching). Effective mentoring is a two-way relationship. It can also provide a platform for women to not only share their experiences and thoughts, but to drive change in the workplace through their mentors. Through trust, wisdom and insights can be exchanged, talent can be empowered, and gender balance can be accelerated. Importantly, additional tools such as sponsorship should be considered to actively promote women’s career growth, as should efforts to ensure the authentic voices of all women in the workplace are heard, valued, and respected.

Unfortunately, the statistics make clear that far too many women aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve. Slightly more than half of women have “access to senior leaders as mentors,” depriving them of a critical tool to advance their careers. This comes at a time when the opportunity gap for women in positions of leadership at businesses remains vast. For example, at S&P 500 companies, women hold slightly more than a third of mid-level and manager roles and only a quarter of executive and senior positions.

The reality is that we simply aren’t moving fast enough. That’s why a day like today is so critical—to reflect on where progress must still be made and commit to doing more. Let’s use this powerful day to personally commit ourselves in creating the balanced picture we all want to see.