Many male execs, managers and trainers are uncomfortable with one-on-one mentoring in cross-gender relationships. A recent survey revealed that “half of junior women and almost two-thirds of senior men shied away from one-on-one mentoring relationships due to concerns that someone might perceive a sexual relationship where there was none.” These apprehensions build walls that deny access to the power holders and potential career mentors who can advance careers; subsequently, talented women find themselves excluded and marginalized. Thus, the organization suffers from both growth and financial standpoints from not maximizing its own professional resources.
Only 4.6 percent of all CEOs in companies in the S&P 500 are female, according to a 2015 study by Catalyst, a not-profit research organization dedicated to bolstering diversity in the workplace.
Our natural response to this statistic, which appears to be absurd, is to ask, “Why?” W. Brad Johnson, a psychology professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, has spent more than two decades studying mentoring. He feels talented women usually don’t receive the same kind of individual career guidance and support as men do in career advancement. If this is true, then we again have to ask, “Why?” It is obviously imperative that we tap our talent banks. Johnson states that “any organization that excludes 50 percent or more of its best talent from reaching upper management is doomed. It’s just not going to be competitive.” We also must be aware that finding senior women in executive positions may be infrequent, and even then, these leaders are not able to meet the voluminous mentoring needs of women in today’s organizations.
Further complications exist, and it may not be surprising to realize that many of them are social. In a recent co-authored article with David G. Smith, Johnson comments on Nobel Scientist Tim Hunt saying he “had trouble working with ‘girls’ because ‘three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.’” This may make your blood boil a bit, but his statement represents the fear and apprehension that many men experience through their insecurities and lack of expertise in working with women face to face in business situations.
There is substantial research in place to support programs involving finding and developing “male champions.” In articles by the Harvard Business Review (“Men Who Mentor Women”) and CDK Global (“Five Ways to Support Women in Automotive”), this topic is discussed thoroughly.
Who are these “male champions?” The Harvard study wanted to know how these men stand up to pressure from peers or the expectations of outmoded organizational cultures. How do they use their power to create diverse, inclusive organizations?
“These ‘male champions’ genuinely believe in fairness, gender equity, and the development of talent in their organizations,” the article stated, “and that they are easily identified by female leaders for the critical role they play advancing women’s careers.”
Finding these “brave” leaders may be challenging, but they are out there, confidently mentoring their junior women charges. Many of them recognize that their values are not always shared by others in their organizations, and realize they must persist in demonstrating courage and persistence to overcome resistance, even in their own teams and peer groups.
At the Women in Automotive conference, which “was created specifically for the purpose of supporting and encouraging the industry, and inciting attendees to make changes that will reverse many of the current disparities and obstacles that they come up against,” a list of some of the inspirational charges that women in the industry must pursue included:
- Be a woman who fears less.
- Support each other’s careers.
- Believe women are key to meet customer demand.
- Believe that vulnerability and Confidence are the Keys to Success.
- Mentor, mentor, mentor.
The answers to the difficulties women are having in the automotive industry and in employment in other industries are out there. It will take “brave” men and determined women to make a change. In addition, women will have to continue to step up to the plate with determination and consistency. Perhaps it was said best by Lisa Copeland in the opening keynote address of the conference: “If the women of the world came together at the same time, for the same mission, they would be unstoppable.”
Jody DeVere – CEO of AskPatty.com