Are you a male leader? Women have something to tell you.

Having a mentor helps diversity initiatives and the data proves it.

One study found that women mentored through formal programs are 50 percent more likely to be promoted compared to women working with mentors they found on their own. In industries with a high percentage of college-educated women, mentoring programs were shown to increase the number of females in leadership roles by ten percent.

Recently I interviewed female leaders in the animal health industry and a surprising finding came out of our conversations. While they love learning from other female leaders and they themselves serve as mentors to rising top-talent, it was the participation of men that they talked about most – or the lack of thereof.

The findings of the research study showed that the female leaders interviewed wanted to also be mentored by senior male leaders in their organizations. For the research participants, the cross-gender mentorships represented the opportunity to learn from the men who were making many of the high-level decisions impacting the organization.

“It’s been extremely helpful to me to hear how a man views thing and how different it is. And the way I might have viewed things that helps me understand better how to sit at the table when you might be the only woman there, those things are super important to me because I don’t know how else you learn those things.”
– Female leader interview response

By being paired with a male, they also expressed the hope that they would be seen for their skills and potential and not just for their gender. This was important, as it addresses the concern that these female leaders have about being perceived as wanting or getting promotions due to their gender and not their qualifications. They aren’t looking for handouts, only recognition for the value they bring to the table.

In our conversations, a major reason cited by the female leaders was the commitment cross-gender mentorship demonstrated to supporting gender diversity.  Women don’t want to fight alone; they want the male leaders to stand up for equity and equality in the workplace by supporting female talent at all levels within the organization. They want the male leaders to be able to talk about their skills – not their gender – when engaging in diversity conversations; skills that may be different and additive to the skills of the men in the room.

“I would hope we’d have more mixed mentor relationships, so strong females leading strong females, but also male and female relationships develop, so that there’s awareness that we are capable and out there.”
– Female leader interview response

While white males are more likely to identify mentors on their own, women and minority members benefit from the formal pairing with senior level white males, who are actually eager to assist the assigned mentee, but reluctant to reach out informally. When organizations create platforms and craft cultures that value mentorship, it opens the door for men and women to address unconscious biases and create new paths for diversity and inclusion.

So, are you a male leader? Here’s something you can do…

THIS WEEK: Make a list of three women in your organization you admire and write down why. Be clear and specific.

THIS MONTH: Meet with these three women and share the reasons why you admire them and ask them how you can be an advocate for them. If they don’t have a mentor, find out why and how you can help.

THIS YEAR: Be intentional about formally mentoring both genders and make sure your male peers are mentoring equally too.