Everyone knows you need a mentor to help you succeed in business, right? Especially if you're a woman--you need someone in the know (preferably a senior executive) who can help you get there. Well, a recent study published at BCG, written by an all women team of Marjolein Cuellar, Andrea Ostby, Kate Protextor, Katie Abouzahr and Nicole Bennett, found a few surprising things when they studied ways to help women succeed in the workplace, including things that don't help.
Mentoring Isn't Helping
In a mentoring program, generally junior level women are matched up with a senior level person who can help coach the junior person through the business and give her support that will help her climb the ladder to the top. In reality, Cuellar, et. al., found that:
All too often, these programs end up devolving to sporadic chats that simply lack the gravity and substance that can make a serious difference in the day-to-day experience of most working women.
In other words, it's not that mentorship isn't helpful, it's that mentorship programs aren't generally helpful because they aren't actually mentoring sessions. It's very easy for this to happen. We like to chat. It's easier than working, but if you're going to mentor someone, it needs to be work focused or it's no good.
Implementing One-Time Measures Fails
This is a favorite of companies--they recognize an immediate problem and fix it and then expect the fix to last forever. But, it doesn't actually work that way. Fixing a specific incident or even responding to a specific incident doesn't have long lasting results.They found that:
It is extremely easy to launch isolated measures--one-time bias training, for example--or to issue edicts describing the new way company employees are expected to work. But in companies that fail to sustain efforts over time or to establish robust policies that change the underlying culture, such isolated, one-time measures are doomed. Worse, they erode management's credibility.
Yes. Announcing, "We are a female friendly workplace!" but then not making any changes really doesn't help management credibility and it certainly doesn't help women in the workplace.
Engaging in External Public Debates on Diversity Is Not Helpful
Virtue signaling is very popular right now. Companies announce they are against whatever and maybe even sponsor a march or sit on a panel at a conference, but the reality is, Cuellar and her colleagues found out, that makes little difference to the people who are actually doing the work. Instead of looking for press releases, try making real changes internally.
Establishing Grievance Systems Isn't Enough
Now, legally, you have to establish a grievance system--a plan for how people can report discrimination and harassment. But, this study points out that this is merely responding to problems that have already happened and doesn't do anything to prevent problems in the future. Yes, you need a grievance system. No, it doesn't mean that you can sit back and relax after it's in place.
If your internal programs are focusing on these measures, it's time to re-evaluate and start working on things that actually do work.