The research is clear. "When women are fully included in leadership," David Smith told me, "Not in a token way but in a substantial manner, businesses do better and teams make better decisions."

Brad Johnson, PhD, and David Smith, PhD, are the authors of "Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women." I spoke with both of them last week about the need for more senior male executives to mentor female professionals. Here's what stood out for me about what is useful for men to know.

You Benefit, Too

David explained, "There are benefits on both sides when men mentor women. "Women get more raises, they advance faster, and they stay in the organization longer. That's not because men are better mentors, but because they have positions of influence and power. It's a numbers game. Men get increased access to information, they build a more diverse and expansive network, and they tend to increase their interpersonal skills."

 You Can Shift Culture

Brad suggested that senior male executives should routinely bring up mentoring with their subordinates. They should express interest in it, and ask, "Are you mentoring anyone?" This one habit alone, he said, could significantly cultivate a mentoring culture. Even better, he said, would be to ask yourself and those who work for you whether all the people you mentor look like you, or not.

Traditionally, men have leaned toward mentoring men, which reinforces the current state of more men than women in leadership roles. To change this state, the pair say, men have to step up and deliberately broaden their mentoring activities.

When and When You Mentor Matters

Brad encouraged men to reach beyond what they have been doing. "You don't have to say 'I want to mentor you'. Instead you could simply tell a younger professional, 'I was so impressed with what you did in the meeting today. If you ever want to have a conversation, please drop by my office."

One thing that can--but shouldn't--have a chilling effect on male executives mentoring female professionals is the #metoo movement.

For example, Brad shared Sheryl Sandberg's story about a Goldman Sachs VP who realized that his firm was bringing in talented women and that he wasn't mentoring any of them. This executive became aware that his mentoring was mostly at drinks and dinner after work, and that women were often uncomfortable being seen in that setting. He switched his practices and started on holding mentoring meetings over breakfast or lunch. Within a few years, he was mentoring equally men and women.

You Can Make a Significant Difference

David urges leaders to, "Make sure that you're spending time with your mentee getting to understand their career goals and dreams. Depending on where they are in their career, they may not even be really clear on those answers. One of your roles as a mentor may be to help them clarify. Brad and I often talk about this in terms of Michelangelo's sculpting work where you don't necessarily understand or see what a work of art is going to be until it emerges from the conversation.

"By reflecting that back to your mentee, and trying to get it just right without imposing your own expectations or assumptions about what it is that they must want or want to be. As you begin to understand what those career dreams and goals are, then you can begin to think about--based on your experience--who are the people to whom they need to be connected, what are the opportunities they need, and where are the stretch assignments they need?"

Published on: Apr 10, 2019