Culture

Sheryl Sandberg on why men should mentor women

Men-tor-her

Women still make up less than a quarter of all STEM professionals, command only 6 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies, and hold just 21 percent of congressional seats — you get the idea. There’s still a lot of work to do. And from Silicon Valley to Hollywood, the latest suggestion for closing the opportunity gap has been to promote mentorship. But what does that really look like? It can seem like just another corporate buzzword based on the unlikely scenario in which a seasoned professional decides, out of the goodness of his or her heart, to spend time and emotional labor guiding a mentee up the ladder. And that’s a shame, because mentorship truly could be the key to making sure women are represented on screens, in boardrooms, and around Capitol Hill. This month, ELLE asked some of the top-ranking women in tech, fashion, finance, and media to demystify what it means to mentor, whom you should really be turning to for help, and how to level up — with or without a mentorship fairy godmother. No buzzwords, just really good advice.

A few months ago, I wrote a Facebook post about my fear that some men would react to #MeToo by avoiding one-on-one time with female colleagues — including meetings, coffee breaks, and all the interactions that help us work together effectively. I said that if men thought that was the way to address workplace sexual harassment, it would be a huge setback for women.

Lean In teamed up with SurveyMonkey to investigate whether my fear was coming true. The numbers we found were alarming: Almost half of the male managers in the U.S. who responded to the survey reported feeling uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women. Senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner alone with a junior woman than with a junior man. And they are five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work alone with a junior woman.

In other words, women — already overlooked, outnumbered, and undervalued in so many organisations — are at risk of becoming even more isolated, right when it is more critical than ever that they receive equal access and support.

We have a lot to do to achieve gender equality in the workplace. We need to promote more women; the number of women in senior management roles is far too small, even though women ask for promotions just as often as men do, and women’s education levels exceed men’s. We need to pay women fairly; the gender pay gap persists year after year, with painful consequences for women and families. We need to stop sexual harassment by holding accountable not only those who commit it but also those who enable them or look the other way.

And we need to close the mentorship gap. Even before #MeToo, women received less of the quality mentorship that opens doors. They’re less likely than men to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on how to advance — and less likely to interact regularly with senior leaders. That’s the kind of support that leads to new roles, more power, and higher incomes — all of which would help correct workplace inequality more broadly.

There’s only one way to close the mentorship gap: by getting more men to mentor women. Of course, women can and often are fantastic mentors to other women. And not all men should mentor women — some, as we now know too well, can’t be trusted to treat women with respect. They should be fired. But right now, the majority of managers and senior managers are men. If you’re a woman seeking advice or support from someone senior, chances are you will need men to provide it. Until we get more women in leadership roles, that’s the reality.

Plus, men should mentor women! The notion that men should mentor men and women should mentor women — that everyone should stick with his or her gender because somehow that’s more appropriate — is part of what created boys’ clubs at work in the first place.

In February, Lean In launched a campaign called #MentorHer. It urges men to step up and use their power to support women in the workplace, with tips on how to be an effective mentor to women and data about why mentorship matters. The day we launched, a long list of business leaders — both men and women — shared stories about how much their mentors mattered to them. Many pledged to #MentorHer. Since then, the pledges have continued to roll in. Go to leanin.org/mentor - her to check it out.

And help us spread the word. Maybe you know a man who is horrified by the sexual harassment stories in the news. He might be tempted to steer clear of women at work completely — better safe than sorry, right? Wrong. Tell him there’s something he can do to be on the right side of this issue. He can use his power for good. He can be an active part of the solution, instead of leaving it to others to solve. He shouldn’t avoid women. He should mentor them.

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of ELLE.

From: ELLE US