There’s two key reasons why businesses needs to start examining more mentoring for female employees.
Firstly, empowering women is good for business. And with more women than ever obtaining education and entering the workforce, more attention needs to be applied to ensuring that the full potential of the women in your business is utilised.
Secondly, women are missing out on a range of development opportunities, including access to mentors or sponsors.
Numerous studies, including by McKinsey and Co, make it increasingly clear that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. We know that when more women sit at the decision-making tables, better decisions are made. One study showed that when women comprise 50 percent of a Board, the performance of that Board is better than male dominated boards.
Despite many organisations committing to gender equality in the workplace, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.
Even though, on average, women and men leave their organisations at about the same rate, we have what McKinsey calls a leaky pipeline. There is a large gap between the number of women starting out on the professional track and how many advance to senior positions. These figures reported by McKinsey in its global 2017 Women in the Workplace report are telling and fit the Australian landscape. Men and women start out even at entry level but at the top, men account for 79% of top positions as opposed to 21% of women.
2017 – percentage of employees by level
|Senior Manager/ Director||34||67|
|Senior Vice President||21||79|
Organisations need to be actively helping women to address this issue and women also need to be actively advocating for themselves and each other.
I am not talking about just having a friendly face to check in with for a coffee every once in a while. Mentoring needs to be integrated and structured to help women gain skills in marketing and advocating for themselves and other women and in being an influencer in a business or organisation.
A 2017 study by professional services firm, Egon Zehnder, of 7,000 women across seven countries, including Australia, found that only 54% of women have access to senior leaders who act as mentors or informal sponsors in their career. Also troubling is the fact that advocacy rates for women decline as age increases. Women with high levels of support are those who have already made it to the top or near top. This research suggests that if women don’t reach a critical threshold in their career early enough, they either stop asking for support or their organisations stop offering it.
Organisations need to provide opportunities for women to be mentored through a combination of strategies. They need to have formal and informal female mentors or sponsors from senior women within or outside their organisation. Particularly where female senior representation is low, which is many organisations, an external female mentor can be brought in either to do one-on-one mentoring or, often more effective in my experience, group mentoring.
Women also need to help themselves. Have the courage to ask for a mentor or to be part of a mentoring program. If you are a senior woman, try and volunteer to mentor. To make the most of a mentoring experience, women need to get clear on what they want from a mentor and how they like to work. Research to find the right mentor for you. Meet with your mentor first to ensure they have the right experience and skills sets. Finally, make time to get the most out of your mentoring sessions.
Mentoring is a cost effective way to help your female workforce realise its full potential, and that benefits everyone.