Why women need a mentor

There are specific moments when women are particularly vulnerable to falling behind. After successfully working through entry-level and early mid-level positions, women’s advancements tend to tumble right when they are ready to enter top jobs, reports Fast Company, quoting Mike Larrain, a male executive at L’Oréal: I’ve seen far too many talented and dedicated women rise through the ranks, but not able to reach their full potential because they drop off or are overlooked on their way up“. He feels male executives must step in to bridge this gap – and mentor young women.

Picture: Mike Larrain

The recent study by management consultants Bain “The everyday moments of ruth: Frontline managers are key to women's aspirations” argued that women do not opt out of their careers to start a family. The real reason women fall behind is due to lack of management effort to move even successful females further forward. "Women lack meaningful recognition and support from managers during their mid-level career period, when women crystalize their aspirations and build or erode their confidence”, the report found.

Larrain who has mentored quite a few women himself over the years stresses that the key to being a good mentor is listening. This is particularly important for male-female mentoring, since men may not perceive the full range of challenges women are facing. And even after a mentee has explained her own ambitions, it is important to be sensitive to what might lie under the surface. A mentee might say that she wants to better engage with clients, but all she really talks about is a conflict between members of her team. That might be a cue to help find a roadmap for managing subordinates. Also, people have unrealistic assumptions about their own strengths and a good mentor can help to identify issues.

Mentoring is of course valuable for employees of both genders, it is particularly helpful to women who are less aggressive about promoting themselves, partly because it is less acceptable for females to be seen as overtly ambitious. To this end, L'Oréal initiated an incubator that allows employees of all ranks to solve pressing issues in the business, from the need to modernize brands via social media to improving distribution techniques. For two months, each team works with a coach to develop ideas that are then presented to senior management in New York. This programme allows bright young employees to bring their ideas to the table and get face time with top brass at the company.

Ultimately, Larrain believes that males bosses cannot shy away from investing in women. “I’ve found that mentorship is a powerful tool for bridging the gap between a mentee’s current position and where they ultimately want to be in their career.” 

Read more at Fastcompany and Bain

Barbara Bierach

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