Executive women are notoriously busy juggling careers, families, and other responsibilities. And yet, there is one more job that we all must take on: mentoring and providing guidance to women around us.
Being a great mentor or role model - whether formally or informally - should be in the job description of every senior level executive. But the responsibility goes beyond the traditional one-to-one mentoring for executive woman since there tend to be fewer at the senior ranks. According to Judith Warner at the Center for American Progress, women make up 59% of the college-educated entry-level workforce, but less than 9% of all top management positions.
Often, many junior women who seek mentorship have a hard time finding it. LinkedIn conducted a study in 2011 that found that “1 out of 5 women say they’ve never had a mentor at work.” Senior level women are often perceived as unavailable, intimidating or just plain rushed. And, there just aren’t enough of them to go around.
All together, this means it’s incumbent on senior-level women in organizations to make themselves available to as many women as possible throughout the organization. This may seem overwhelming or onerous - especially because often the women seeking out counsel from you may have nothing more in common with you than being a woman. 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 pitching in 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 a job and a 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 - or at least a reminder - to women executives everywhere that the time and effort you put into mentoring will make a difference to women in more junior roles and to the company overall. Here are some ideas to help:
1. Carve Out Time
It’s so hard when we’re all juggling multiple responsibilities - work, home and other. But consider scheduling “office hours” or some kind of planned time when you can take short meetings.
2. Learn everyone's name - and something about them
I learned from one of the best bosses I’ve ever had how important it is to know everyone’s name. And go one step further: take the time to know at least one thing about everyone in your office. “Sally, how was the trip to Turkey?” When you’re a junior person in a big anonymous office, it goes a long way to know that someone at the top knows you.
3. Set an example
Remember that everything you do, say, and even wear is setting an example for those around you. If you choose to be positive and enthusiastic, others will follow your lead. In that way, you can make an important difference for the performance of the department or even the company - even to team members outside your scope of management.
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. A little humor can also help communicate to a team that you have high standards but you’re human too - which is especially important for senior women who are often perceived as off-putting.
5. Be honest and open
The more you’re willing to open up and share, the more value a mentee will get from an exchange with you. There is 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 management 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, eventually the burden on each individual should lighten as more and more women enter executive ranks.
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