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Diversity, the road to convergence: Thoughts on International Women’s Day (a day late on the blog)!

March 9, 2014

Diversity literature ought to be one driving convergence between whatever is divergent, rather than leave a sense of divisiveness. A fine illustration of how good can what ought to be is the chapter titled “Are You My Mentor?” in Sheryl Sandberg’s book LEAN IN.

In here she diagnoses some very compelling issues in the corporate world and prescribes very effective and global matter-of -fact prescriptions for both the genders. I would like to pick a few interesting threads and hope that those of you, who have not read this wonderful book as yet, will do so very soon. In the least please do read this chapter.

  • ‘If the current trends continue, fifteen years from today, about one-third of the women in this audience will be working full-time and almost all of you will be working for the guy you are sitting next to.” (Addressing a gathering).
  • The men were focusing on how to manage a business and the women were focusing on how to manage career. The men wanted answers and the women wanted permission and help. I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming.
  • To be clear, the issue is not whether mentorship is important. It is. Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial for career progression. Both men and women with sponsors are more likely to ask for stretch assignments and pay rises than their peers of the same gender without sponsors. Unfortunately for women, men often have an easier time acquiring and maintaining these relationships. One recent study shows that men are significantly more likely than women to be sponsored and that those with sponsors are more satisfied with their rates of advancement.
  • Because it is harder for young women to find mentors and sponsors, they are taking a more active role in seeking them out.
  • Studies show that mentors select protégés based on performance and potential. I believe we have sent out a wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, “Get a mentor and you will excel.” Instead, we need to tell them, “Excel and you will get a mentor.”
  • Capturing someone’s attention or imagination in a minute can be done, but only when planned and tailored to that individual.
  • Mentorship is often a more reciprocal relationship than it may appear, especially in situations where people are already working at the same company. The mentee may receive more direct assistance, but the mentor receives benefits too, including useful information, greater commitment from colleagues, and a sense of fulfillment and pride.
  • Getting the attention of a senior person with a virtuoso performance works, but it’s not the only way to get a mentor. I have seen lower-level employees nimbly grab a moment after a meeting or in the hall to ask advice from a respected and busy senior person. The relationship is more important than the label.
  • Few mentors have time for excessive hand-holding. Most are dealing with their own high-stress jobs. A mentee who is positive and prepared can be a bright spot in a day.
  • Men will often gravitate toward sponsoring younger men, with whom they connect more naturally. Since there are so many more men at the top of every industry, the proverbial old-boy network continues to flourish. And since there are already a reduced number of women in leadership roles, it is not possible for the junior women to get enough support unless senior men jump in too. We need to make male leaders aware of this shortage and encourage them to widen their circle.
  • It’s wonderful when senior men mentor women. It’s even better when they champion and sponsor them. Any male leader who is serious about moving toward a more equal world can make this a priority and be part of the solution.
  • Junior women and senior men often avoid engaging in mentoring and sponsoring relationships out of fear of what others might think.
  • Many companies are starting to move from informal mentoring that relies on individual initiative to more formal programs. One study showed that women who found mentors through formal programs were 50% more likely to be promoted than women who found mentors on their own.
  • Official mentoring programs are not sufficient by themselves and work best when combined with other kinds of development and training.
  • Peers can also mentor and sponsor one another. There is a saying that “all advice is autobiographical.” Friends at the same stage of their careers may actually provide more current and useful counsel.’

This is almost a manifesto on mentoring. I could not make it any shorter despite leaving out all the fantastic anecdotes. Hoping that anyone wishing to make the most out of mentoring be it professional development, career advancement and overcoming gender divide – will find this an extremely valuable roadmap.

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