In the wake of the #MeToo movement, some men announced a new policy – they would no longer want to be alone with a woman in a professional setting. But what’s the reality of the situation?
Since October 2017, #MeToo, a movement created to raise awareness about workplace sexual harassment and assault has cost some men – most notably a few high profile men in Hollywood – their jobs. In the aftermath, some male professionals took their cue from US Vice President Mike Pence and said they would no longer have one-on-one meetings with women.
Since mentoring often involves senior professionals opening up doors for their juniors, this made many worried that a repercussion of trying to reduce sexual harassment might be the loss of career opportunities for women. But did this actually happen?
According to a 2019 survey of 3000 US workers by Olivet Nazarene University, 69 per cent of women currently have a female mentor and 82 per cent of men have a male mentor. So while there is a clear tendency for mono-gender mentorships, more women have a mentor outside their gender.
There are no doubt many reasons for this, but the fact that men are still over-represented in senior positions seems particularly pertinent. In some industries, finding a female leader who can mentor you might be prohibitively difficult.
This makes findings from Pew Research Centre troubling. In a survey of attitudes towards sexual harassment in the workplace post #MeToo, it showed that about half (51 per cent) of respondents believed: “recent developments have made it harder for men to know how to interact with women in the workplace”.
In the report, a senior leader in the banking industry mentioned that several male colleagues had told her they were reconsidering mentoring women.
But mentoring relationships involving both genders are proven to be mutually beneficial. A report, The Role of Gender in Mentoring: Implications for Diversified and Homogenous Mentoring Relationships reveals that mentoring relationships involving diversiﬁed relationships provided more role modelling and psychosocial support.
Belinda Jurisic, Veeam APJ’s senior director of Channels, says she is concerned about the negative impact of the #MeToo movement, saying that it’s disappointing as women need the support from men to step up to leadership positions.
“Being in a male-dominated industry myself, and as an advocate of women in IT, we can’t do what we do without the support of men in our careers. We need them understanding the value that women bring to an organisation. Male-female mentoring relationships facilitate that.”
Jurisic has experience mentoring both genders, but doesn’t approach mentoring men any differently to mentoring women. She currently mentors Chris Eaton, national sales manager at Encoo. The two, who were paired through non-profit trade association CompTIA, had previous mentoring relationships.
Based off Jurisic’s experience, she said the only difference in mentoring men versus women is the way conversations flow. “When I mentor women, the conversations are both personal and professional. Their personal experience emerges first in conversations – who they are, what their fears are, what their challenges are. Only then does the conversation move on to how that relates to them on a professional level and what is happening in their careers at that time.
“Conversations with my male mentees are more around their jobs or career progression and less about their personal fears. To mentor or be mentored effectively, you need to be open about who you are.”
“Being in a male-dominated industry myself, and as an advocate of women in IT, we can’t do what we do without the support of men in our careers.”
Jurisic adds that her experience mentoring Eaton has given her a greater awareness of how to approach the men who report to her.
“I’m now more mindful of the different ways they may react to situations. I’ve also broadened conversations with them to include things beyond their roles and career paths.”
Jurisic encourages everyone to mentor, or be mentored by a person of the opposite sex.
“You need to dismiss the sex of a person and look to the person for their experience. As a mentor, you have to think about the right approach for them, be aware of how different the individual can process information, react to situations and what gets you the right result for that person.”
A male mentee
Jurisic is Eaton’s first female mentor, but he doesn’t see the mentorship relationship as particularly different to others he’s had. But there are some shifts, says Eaton, mostly regarding communication. “When there are females around, I think more about what and how I say things, whereas with the blokes, the conversations are uncensored.
“Belinda has made me more level-headed. Sometimes I can be aspirational in my ideas, run off on tangents and try to do all things at once. She has taught me how to work on one thing at a time and reassess its impact before going on to the next goal.”
Eaton says he finds women to be generally less pointed, resulting in conversations and advice coming across more seamlessly.
“Men can be more confrontational and women less so. This makes women generally more approachable in conversations and advice. But we’ve got to move away from the gender stereotypes and be prepared to have open-minded conversations with everyone. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to fail.”
According to Eaton, a mentorship relationship should be free of stigmas related to race, gender, and any other stereotyped traits. It should be based on trust.
“The whole #MeToo movement, or any other movement for that matter, will have extremists. Generally speaking, they are the minority.
I don’t think gender or anything else should make a difference. You’ve just got to ensure that both the mentor and mentee are suited to each other. And for that, you need to see if the mentor has the skill set you require to help deliver on maximum output and vice-versa.”
Two sides to a coin
Phil Hayes-St Clair, CEO and co-founder of Drop Bio, has been mentoring people since 2010. He currently mentors around 40 people, through a mix of both formal and informal mentoring initiatives.
“I mentor entrepreneurs who seek advice or need access to me from time to time. In some cases, it’s very structured and part of a formal program. In other cases, I just mentor them through a Slack channel or book some time into my diary when they need help,” he says.
Having mentored a mix of both males and females, Hayes-St Clair says he hasn’t noticed any difference in mentoring people of the opposite sex.
“When I think about the way #MeToo has played out, I get disappointed because I enjoy a respectful relationship, dialogue and support with all my mentees. They all come with vastly different experiences and in these relationships, it’s about respect and not power imbalance.”
According to Hayes-St Clair, when it comes to mentoring, there’s no real playbook.
“Mentoring is a two-way street. If I don’t feel like either of us are getting any value from it, I reassess the relationship. Mentoring relationships are meetings of minds and you need to get to know your mentee to get the most value from the exchanges.”
One difference that Hayes-St Clair enjoys about mentoring women is taking different approaches to solutions and being able to see varying perspectives on a problem. He experiences this with Sarah Collingwood, CEO of Four Winds Vineyard.
“Men and women look at things differently. The way women solve problems is often more interesting. With Sarah, we brainstorm different things for her business and I’ve realised that over time, she ends up teaching me as well.
“Although there’s not a playbook for mentoring, it is essential to exercise high levels of compassion and empathy with every mentee. Otherwise, you’re probably not suited to be a mentor or a leader.”
Hayes-St Clair has three mentors himself, a woman and two men, and added that it’s important for both genders to have diversity in the support structure around them.
“If you engage with just the same gender, same industry, or people of the same level of experience, it narrows how much you can learn from those people. If you have a very diverse group, that increases your aperture for learning.
“A mentor is also only useful for a particular period of time. Mentors need to know where they work best and operate in those environments, and ideally help their mentees transition to a new mentor who can help accelerate their learning journey, before they outgrow their relationship with you.”
Applications for AHRI’s mentoring program open up on the 2nd of September. Submit your expression of interest for the 2020 program.
Collingwood, for her part, says she has learnt plenty. The mentorship with Hayes-St Clair is her first and only, and she has been catching up with him regularly since they were paired up about nine months ago through a mentorship program, Inspiring Rare Birds, which aims to boost female entrepreneurship.
“We’ve been catching up every fortnight around what’s going on in his business, what’s going on in my business, where we face challenges and how our experiences may help each other,” she says. “We also come from very different industries – Phil’s from a fast-moving tech start-up space while I’m in a slower moving agricultural and retail sector. It’s very interesting to get his perspective.”
“Mentoring is a two-way street. If I don’t feel like either of us are getting any value from it, I reassess the relationship.”
Collingwood says her mentorship with Hayes-St Clair has opened her up to other opportunities. She has tapped into Hayes-St Clair’s network of entrepreneurs, which has given her the chance to learn from other leaders across various industries.
“The skill that I’ve learned from Phil is looking at the bigger picture within my business and understanding that as my business grows my role as a leader does too. Phil has helped me through the transition of mindset from running a smaller business to one that involves a greater leadership element.”
According to Collingwood, nothing has changed for her since the #MeToo movement. The pair keep things professional and enjoy a fruitful relationship.
“We talk about being entrepreneurs and parents of young children and how those two things can be challenging. The relationship is based on professionalism and a real mutual respect for each other’s work. Having a male mentor isn’t different to how I would have approached a female. I would recommend to anyone that gender shouldn’t be a factor for refusing a mentoring relationship.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of HRM magazine.