Tips for Men Who Mentor Women

Observe a few common-sense rules to make the most of this professional opportunity.

Tips for Men Who Mentor Women

By Mark Swartz


There’s a shortage of senior level women to mentor upcoming females. Women still constitute just 34% of supervisory and executive positions, despite making up 48% of the workforce.

Men are being asked to fill this gap. They are called on to serve as advisors to a rising generation of women. This raises possible issues of gender bias or sexual improprieties.

That shouldn’t deter males from mentoring members of the opposite sex (or those identifying as such). Some practical guidelines can help minimize potential conflicts.


How Men Benefit From Mentoring Women

A typical male experiences life through society’s role expectations. This influences how they view the world. Women are up against different types of obstacles. They struggle for basic equality in pay and promotions.

Mentoring a woman gives men an opportunity to see work and career in an alternative light. There are insights to be gained learning about the woman’s point of view. One result is an expanded sensitivity to dealing with females supportively as professionals. Another is becoming more self-aware about biases the male employee may hold toward females at work.

An additional benefit is a credibility gain. Men who coach rising females may find their efforts appreciated by women at all levels.   


Why Employers Encourage It

A great deal of progress has been made in managing gender differences at work. Yet frictions can arise due to misunderstandings between men and women. Pairing a male mentor with female staff aids in creating dialogue and mutual respect.

The process also speeds up competitiveness. It grooms women for upward mobility without them having to wait for a female advisor.  


What Holds Men Back From Mentoring Women

Some men are wary of coaching females. The male might, for instance, worry about saying the wrong thing and triggering a sexual harassment complaint. Or an attraction might develop that breaches professional boundaries.

A third reason men might balk is they worry their advice will be seen as condescending. Some guidance follows on how to minimize these hazards.


Recognize Condescending “Manscripts”

Going back to those societal roles placed on men, they can impede mentoring. Think of the standard archetypes: the male as rescuing the damsel in distress; raising and protecting a daughter from harm; always being strong as a rock.

Each of these puts the woman in a subordinate spot. Why assume she is less competent or able to fight her own battles? Equality is the recommended stance.


Put Away Limiting Stereotypes

Women have always being perceived as the weaker sex, says accepted wisdom. But did you know that women can make worse office bullies than men? There goes one myth shattered.

Fallacies about women with careers are legion. To get ahead they have to think and behave like a man. A woman climbing the ladder is “aggressive” (while her male correlate is “ambitious”). All females will halt their careers to have and care for babies. Anyway they’re too emotional to handle pressure.

Painting females with such broad strokes is demeaning. The only universal trait they share is their biology. Stereotypes should be acknowledged, then shelved until proven right.


Don’t Mistake Attention For Affection

The mentee by necessity must spend time with the mentor, displaying interest and being gracious. Men have to be cautious they don’t interpret this attention as romantic.

There’s a power imbalance here. The mentor must resist any temptation to exploit this relationship. Suggestive comments and imploring glances are verboten. It could get them fired for inappropriate behaviour and sued for sexual harassment.


Give Women An Equal Footing

It can be daunting for a male to mentor a female. The man has to resist stereotypes, avoid talking down to the mentee, and observe strict rules of behaviour.

The reward is a cadre of women better prepared to advance their careers, and improve the employer’s competitiveness.


Consider putting aside concerns and volunteer at your company now.