Like it or not, in most of our organisations the majority of senior leaders are men of a certain age and background. While we can argue the toss about the forces that created this situation, the reality is, this is what it is (and personally I don’t think making the men in these positions feel wrong or guilty for being there serves any useful purpose). Given the imperative for more diverse organisations and leadership, it’s also not going to continue.
Yet one of the abiding myths is that senior women and leaders from under-represented backgrounds should mentor and sponsor leaders like themselves. For example, senior women are tacitly expected to support the next generation of women leaders. While this is a worthy and admirable expectation, in doing so we are assuming all women lead in similar ways and that women’s development is not better or at least differently served by being exposed to a range of styles including senior men.
It also puts enormous pressure on senior women leaders who are mindful the spotlight is on them and those they are sponsoring, and that their judgement as leaders is at stake should those they chose to champion not live up to expectations. Nor does it allow for the possibility that high potential men have much to learn from being exposed to a range of leadership philosophies, experiences and styles, among them women and others from diverse backgrounds.
Add to this the fact that women and others normally underrepresented at senior levels are expected to carry the lion’s share of mentoring and sponsorship for emerging leaders of similar backgrounds.
This is exacerbated further by the fact that male leaders are increasingly reluctant to mentor women for fear of how this may be perceived. According to MentorHer an initiative from the Lean-In organisation, women are 24% less likely than men to get advice from senior leaders. And 62% of women of colour say the lack of an influential sponsor holds them back. What’s more according to a 2018 survey, senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man—and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.
This hesitation is understandable given the #metoo movement and the heightened awareness of what can happen in working relationships with a significant power differential. Nevertheless, we have to be able to have the conversations with senior men and would-be mentor/sponsors, to explore their concerns in relation to feeling safe in this kind of relationship and what safeguards need to be put in place for both parties to feel comfortable and able to contribute fully.
So what impact has the #metoo movement had on your willingness to mentor or sponsor those different from you?
#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving