According to the 2015 Women in the Workplace survey by Fairygodboss, 49% of women say they are not able to find sufficient access to female mentors or advisors within their organization. Knowing that there tend to be fewer women in leadership roles, we weren’t surprised to learn this statistic. But we were disappointed to hear some of these comments from the respondents:
“The women who are willing to mentor are incredibly busy with all sorts of things (including mentoring of other women) so it’s tough to get their attention.”
“Several women have reached out to offer advice / help, but they all work crazy hours and do not, in my opinion, lead family-friendly lifestyles.”
“It is a different attitude. I’ve been limited by women more than i have been by men.”
The lack of available female advisors for women in the workplace is not just about the numbers of women in the top ranks - although that certainly plays a key role. It also has a lot to do with attitude and approach of the few women who do stand among those ranks.
Since right now 25% of Americans think we will colonize Mars before women make up 50% of the C-Suite, we need women at all levels in the workplace to take on an extra layer of responsibility, i.e., helping their fellow women forward. So, I’d like to enlist women everywhere to think about how you can mentor or help other women within your company or workplace.
Taking on this extra assignment may seem overwhelming or onerous. However, if we are all part of a united cause to improve retention and promotion among women, the only way we’ll get there is by giving an extra helping hand.
In my own career, I have been benefited dramatically from the women who have taken the time to give me advice and steer my career. And as a result, it has always been important to me to pay it forward by making time for anyone who seeks me out. When you are managing your own job and career as well as family, it can be difficult to take on this extra responsibility — but it is well worth it. And it follows in the footsteps of great women like Sheryl Sandberg who take time out of their “day jobs” to advance the cause for women in the workplace every day.
So let this be a plea to women everywhere that the time and effort you put into helping other women along will make a difference your colleagues, to the company overall, and to the cause of gender equality. Here are some ideas to help:
1. No time? Get Creative About Making it Work
Recently, I chatted with a senior leader at a major consulting firm who had been overwhelmed by the number of women coming to her for advice. Her solution? She organized happy hours where women could all have a chance to chat with each other, and with her as well.
2. Take the Time to Get To Know Each Other
One of the things we hear often from Fairygodboss members is how isolated they feel in their workplaces. By reaching out and getting to know each other, we can help bring more women into the fold and increase their engagement and retention.
One of the best - and most popular - bosses I’ve ever had seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of everyone’s names and personal details about their life, “Sally, how was the trip to Turkey?” Take the time to get to know your fellow co-workers, and help them feel a little less invisible at work.
3. Set an Example
When you are established at work, everything you do, say, and even wear is setting an example for those around you. If you choose to be positive, enthusiastic, and supportive of your peers, others will follow your lead. Set the tone that helping is each other is part of the company culture, and others will soon follow.
Part of that also means setting boundaries. If you never leave your desk, how can any of the people around you? Set a standard that involves work/life balance to help make it the norm at your organization.
4. Have a Sense of Humor
Be serious, intelligent and authoritative. But a little levity goes a long way when everyone is working hard in the trenches. If you can intersperse a little humor into the workday, everyone is grateful – and also happier to be there.
5. Be Honest
The more you’re willing to open up and share, the more value a fellow woman will get from an exchange with you. In competitive workplaces, there is always a temptation to try to project an air of infallibility. But if you can share a story about a mistake you made, it’s sure to inspire someone even more so than a story of heroic success.
If every woman in the professional world took just one hour a week to help support other women in the organization, the positive effects could be dramatic and exponential. And if all goes according to plan, one day when women represent 50% of the management ranks, the load will get much easier — either that, or we’ll all be living on Mars anyway.
Do you have thoughts on how and whether women mentor or help each other at work? Join the conversation in our community and share your perspectives with other women in the workplace!
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