Regina Cabal
Startup Contributor

The Importance of Having a Specific Mentoring Program for Women

By Regina Cabal | Wed, 08/17/2022 - 11:00

Mentoring programs are a way to keep employees happy, loyal and to help them grow. Why should there be a specific program for women? In this article, I share three reasons to create a mentoring program focused on women as well as the most recurrent themes addressed in women’s mentoring sessions.

1. To Close the Gender Gap

Mentoring is one of the best strategies to help close the gender gap in business leadership, as verified by data from studies conducted by prestigious universities, such as Wharton and Cornell.

Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labour Relations found that mentoring programs boosted minority representation at management level by 9-24 percent. Furthermore, the study found that mentoring programs improved promotion and retention rates for minorities and women from 15-38 percent as compared to non-mentored employees.

Furthermore, 51.5 percent of the experience of inclusion is driven by mentoring and sponsorship programs (Evidence-Based Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices. Wharton.)

2. Formality is required for women

The second reason is that informal” mentoring happens more frequently among men, since leaders (who are mostly men) tend to search for mentees that remind them of their past selves,” who are also men. So, putting in place a formal mentoring program for women helps ensure that women benefit from these programs as well.

Ninety-four percent of women consider mentoring as a key strategy in their professional development (Robert Walters research paper).

3. Engagement will increase

The third reason is that accompanying women through difficult or transitional moments, such as maternity or even the pandemic, increases levels of satisfaction with the company.

  • Mentoring programs are highly correlated with the overall satisfaction and happiness of women in the company. (InHerSight, a platform that allows employees to anonymously rate their companies on policies such as family leave, mentoring, and equal opportunity.)
  • One in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the impact of COVID-19. (McKinsey + LeanIn)
  • The (gender) inequalities that existed before the pandemic are now on steroids.” (Claudia Goldin, professor of economics at Harvard)

At Momlancers, we have detected five recurring themes among women:

1. Impostor Syndrome and Modesty Bias

Imagine that you see someone with a great hairstyle and you give them a compliment. How will this person answer if he is a man? And if she is a woman? Men tend to accept compliments more easily; he will probably respond with a thanks, I already knew that.” A woman is more likely to respond with some kind of apology; for example: "But look how ugly the color is at the root."

These kinds of biases have inspired wonderful initiatives like Google's #IamRemarkable that empower women and other underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond.

Subtopics to be addressed:

  • Record of achievements based on facts
  • Ask people they are working with to tell them about their qualities.
  • Make a list that answers the question, "What am I good at?”

2. Work-Life Balance. Organization of Time and Energy

In the collective unconscious there is this image of a multitasking woman, with multiple arms holding a computer, a baby, a saucepan, a shopping list … almost like a Hindu goddess. And imagine that, although it expresses the feelings of the majority of women, it is neither very real nor sustainable. No one can live like this.

Women tend to have their plates "full" of unpaid activities. Both at home and in the office. I've even seen them design and execute most diversity and inclusion initiatives in companies (with zero remuneration). Women need to set boundaries. To define priorities. Organize their time and energy.

Subtopics to be addressed:

  • Energy and time management
  • Eisenhower Matrix to choose what to prioritize on their to-do list
  • Mindfulness practice

3. Ambition and Career Plan

Many of the women I’ve talked to fail to keep pace with their professional growth plans because they do not DECIDE to continue growing. Several studies have shown that women's ambition decreases as their age increases. There is "something" (sometimes taking care of their family) that sets them back. Commerce Prof. Carmen García Ribas made this reflection: Men are afraid of failure and women, of rejection. He is afraid of not being somebody and she is afraid of being one.”

Sub-topics to be addressed:

  • Putting together a Career Plan
  • Find the correct fit with the company’s plan.

4. Communication and Negotiation

Women also face a “likeability bias;” the famous calladita te ves más bonita” (“if you are quiet you look prettier”).We expect men to be assertive, so when they lead, it feels natural. We expect women to be kind and communal, so when they assert themselves, we like them less.

The experiment Heidi vs. Howard cited by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean is a great example.

In 2003, professors Frank Flynn and Cameron Anderson conducted an experiment: they took the case of a real woman named Heidi Roizen, who had become a major venture capitalist in the technology sector, and had her story read to two separate groups of students. The difference is that, for one of them, the profile would have a male name, Howard. Both mixed groups rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent but the fictional man was considered a more socially attractive partner. Heidi, however, was seen by the group that studied her as a "selfish" person, whom she "would not want to hire." Heidi and Howard were identical, their only difference was gender.

Women need to learn how to communicate and negotiate without the fear of not being liked by their colleagues.

Sub-topics to be addressed:

  • Questions to negotiate.
  • Nonviolent communication.

5. Guilt Management

It seems that women have a mental chip that makes them feel guilty about everything. ManpowerGroup conducted a survey in which 55 percent of educated women who were unemployed felt guilty for not taking advantage of their education or contributing to the family income and/or felt that they were not perfect housewives. However, those who worked felt guilty for not spending time with their children, for not cleaning and taking care of the home, or for believing that they did not spend enough time on their family matters. Women need to learn how to deal with guilt to be at peace with their decisions.

Sub-topics to be addressed:

  • Clarity about where the "rules" they set come from
  • Home equity management

5 tips for running a successful mentoring program:

  1. Invite mentors to connect with the purpose of the company but also with their own personal purpose. Why is it important for me to do a mentoring program?
  2. Take time to make a good match. You can use a simple Google Forms to shortlist or create a “speed-dating” event for mentors and mentees to meet.
  3. Share with your mentors a structure and a toolkit to work with their mentee.
  4. Include men in the process. Don't forget to have high-level sponsors.
  5. Set a time frame to make sure you don't lose momentum.
Photo by:   Regina Cabal