From Mentorship to Leadership: Empowering Women in the Workplace
From Mentorship to Leadership: Empowering Women in the Workplace

From Mentorship to Leadership: Empowering Women in the Workplace

Employee Learning & Development, Company Culture, Diversity Equity & Inclusion   — 3 MIN


Mentorships are invaluable in the workplace, especially for women. Being mentored can help women picture their future and better plan for success. As Kailynn Bowling, co-founder of ChicExecs PR & retail strategy firm says, “Mentors are a critical part of both professional and personal development. They help women practice their communication skills in a safe environment by focusing on growth and improvement.”With fewer women in leadership roles than men, mentorship between female colleagues is even more important. It helps pave the way for future leaders by proving the possibility of advancement and giving women the help and examples they need to succeed.

Proof that the glass ceiling persists in corporate America—women didn’t consistently outnumber men exclusively named John as executives until 2023. The New York Times originally reported, “Among chief executives of S&P 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William, or James.”

Sheryl Sandberg says, “Mentorship and sponsorship are key drivers of success.” And companies can help facilitate this process by building a culture of mentorship. Here’s how:

  • Make mentorship programs company-wide, opening the process across departments and divisions.
  • Match mentors and mentees based on complementary skill sets. For example, pairing a developer with a marketer can push both to share skills and insights.
  • Create a company-wide structure that promotes mentor-mentee pairings and facilitates the ongoing process.
  • Encourage clear and eager communication.

Mentorships between leaders and women new to the field are necessary, but we can’t forget the importance of peer mentor-mentee relationships. Peers can offer perspectives that leaders sometimes lack. Consider Sandberg’s experience being encouraged by peers to pursue positions at Google and Facebook while older mentors advised against it.

Jumping the hurdles

Despite the benefits, finding mentorships for women in the workplace can be a struggle. Though mentoring helps women advance at work, often earning them higher pay and promotions while they make the contacts necessary to successfully navigate, mentorships simply aren’t occurring enough.

A good place to start fixing the issue is by identifying the hurdles preventing women from obtaining these mentorships:

  • An assumed lack of expertise: Working hand in hand with the confidence gap, one contributing factor to women not seeking or offering mentorships is a presumed lack of expertise. As research finds, “Women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100%of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60% of the requirements.”
  • A lack of social capital: Studies have found that women often have trouble amassing the same amount of social capital as men due to fewer senior-level women. And while women tend to build their networks with a 50/50 gender split, men’s networks often include fewer women.
  • The absence of programs: A major hurdle for women seeking mentorships at work is the lack of structured programs to unite mentees and mentors. In a survey conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI), only half of the respondents worked at organizations with formal programs, only 20% graded existing programs as high quality, and 22% received no mentorship training.

Surveying mid- and senior-level businesswomen across 19 countries and 30 industries, DDI found that 63% of the group had never had a mentee. Overcoming the hurdles to increasing female mentorship in the workplace isn’t a single-step process. While women work to close the confidence gap and own their expertise, organizations must improve their efforts to provide meaningful mentoring programs and inclusive environments, especially at the top.

Four steps to find your mentor

We know how important mentorships can be, especially for women, and that finding the right mentor can set us on the path toward success. But how do we go about doing that?

Follow these four steps and get started finding, and keeping, your mentor today:

  • Ask: Reaching out to someone you’d like to be your mentor can be nerve-wracking. However, in today’s busy workplaces, you can’t wait and hope someone will come to you. Take the first step and ask someone you admire to help.
  • Think big: If the mentorship you want isn’t available within your company or field, branch out. Remember, too, that there’s no rule saying you can only have one mentor. Think big and pursue opportunities for yourself.
  • Get and give: Many of the best mentorships are symbiotic. Keep in mind that you bring something to the table, too. Balance being open about your skills and contributions with having an open mind and being eager to learn.
  • Welcome feedback: One of the main purposes of having a mentor is to learn how you can improve. Because of this, it’s essential to be open about wanting feedback and to accept it with graciousness. Say to yourself, “All feedback is a gift.”

Another type of mentorship that’s increasingly popular today is the micro mentor. According to Lindsey Pollak, Hartford’s Millennial workplace expert, who describes micro mentoring as smaller and more informal, “Social media creates opportunities for more micro mentoring, in that you can reach out via X or LinkedIn to someone with more experience or expertise in a certain area.”

While mentorships can feel scarce, most people are eager and willing to take new hires under their wings. The best mentor-mentee relationships benefit both parties, offering mentors the opportunity to pay it forward and mentees the ability to climb the path to success.