Navigating innuendo – challenges for male mentors
Common challenges for male mentors when they mentor women
It is essential that we acknowledge the challenges for male mentors and that they may need a different approach to mentoring men.
Male mentors certainly need some coaching to build awareness of some of the challenges they may face when they mentor women. With a disproportionately low number of women in senior roles to mentor women, it falls on male leaders to step up and take over the mentoring function. Many potential male mentors are willing and open, but without basic training they simply don’t understand the real issues that impact women in the workplace. The mentoring process is about “walking in someone’s shoes,” and clearly male mentors have not faced the same challenges as women. What tends to happen is they endorse and further embed male coded ideas and practices. Why wouldn’t they? It’s all they know.
So how can that gap be filled and male mentors be brought up to speed?
For the first time in history, men and women occupy the workplace in almost equal numbers. Women are increasingly ambitious for senior roles. Also for the first time, men have to deal with women as colleagues and reports, rather than as wives, mothers, sisters or any other female relationship. This causes a number of difficulties and everyone ends up trying to skirt around the issues. There are real challenges for male mentors when mentoring women.
The Harvard Business Review in December 2016 focused on challenges centered around the usual stereotypical thinking:
SEXUAL ATTRACTION AND GOSSIP
Sexual attraction and gossip can occasionally be an issue, where a junior woman does indeed lust after a senior man. However, research from JUMP and Axiom Consulting report that a whopping 80% of women experience sexism in the workplace on a daily basis. 23% report direct sexual harassment. So the likelihood of that happening to men is frankly slim. The authors of the HBR post do finally get round to suggesting that she’s probably “not that into you.”
Gossip is something women also fear. The best way of handling that is to conduct all mentoring sessions in a public space and during office hours. One female participant at a workshop shared how her male mentor wanted to have their mentoring session in a spa. As in a getting naked spa. The answer has to be to firmly decline and, in the context of a formal programme, to report that suggestion to the programme organiser. But many women fear reprisals if official action is taken and instead simply end up gossiping about “office letches.”
Yes really. Men worry about women crying. If men are properly trained, there is nothing that should happen in the context of a mentoring relationship that should reduce the mentee to tears. That said, the issues that women confront in the workplace including sexism, exclusion, loss of opportunity and voice, as well as bullying can be upsetting. It’s also not just about women. There is a science based note. Research from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, suggests that when women cry, men’s testosterone levels drop significantly. An article in the New Scientist indicates that:
“Tears of sadness contain a chemical turn-off for men. Like animal tears, human tears may influence the behaviour of others by smell alone.”
In an alpha, male-coded environment this causes high levels of discomfort. I do know many men who worry about this greatly which is why it is considered to be one of the major challenges for male mentors.
There is a big divide on crying in the office. Personally, I am against all forms of extreme emoting of any kind in the workplace and crying is only one of them. Yelling, throwing things, door slamming and so on come into that category. Crying is not appropriate unless there is a genuine crisis (death, loss or other emotional challenge). For any men mentoring women when faced with a tearful employee, the response would be to give her a Kleenex, wait for it to slow down and stop, establish the trigger and reframe the experience. Physical contact of comfort would be ill-advised and could be mis-construed. Bringing in the support of another woman would also be helpful at that point.
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING LEFT OUT
This is the one area which many discussions on male mentors do not cover. All men mentoring women need to have training on unconscious bias and how it impacts women in the workplace. Many are oblivious to the customs, practises, codes and behaviours that they take for granted which serve men well, but are barriers for women. They expect to have a transactional connection with their mentees related to promotion positioning, network introductions and even the transfer of skills and knowledge. That is they expect to treat them like male mentees. But women often need more support on navigating male-coded cultures and politics. Men are unfamiliar with the unstated messages and the unwritten signals that women face on a daily basis in the workplace. Navigating innuendo and interpreting ambiguity and nuance are some of the biggest challenges for women in their career. Men may not understand that - and why should they? It is their world usually. They live in the obvious.
Very often the challenges facing women in the workplace are also influenced by outside factors which for men are not primary considerations, although that is shifting. Men can also have different communication styles and perspectives to women that require insight that men don’t always have. Younger generations expect more nuanced and less gender stereotyped responses. As male mentors are usually older, they need support to adjust to these cultural changes accordingly.
It is not enough to expect senior men mentoring women to do so without training. When I have trained groups of men they are surprised at the sub-text to some of the issues. Many push-back at situations and concepts that are unfamiliar. Changing mindsets and behaviours developed over a lifetime will not change over night. It needs time and professional input. But any challenges for male mentors are surmountable! It's just a question of training and experience.
If the male mentors in your business need training Contact 3Plus now!
Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services
Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.
The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)
Download and listen free podcasts
How to Create an Effective USP What is a USP? Our Unique Selling Point or UVP (Unique Value Proposition) is our key core message about where...read more
How to Rethink the Modern Workplace for Gender Equality New research shows that diversity and inclusion is a top priority for leaders. So why...read more
Menopause in the workplace In this podcast with Nicki Williams award winning author, keynote speaker and Founder of Happy Hormones for Life,...read more
How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace Nancy Milton, international business communications expert, keynote speaker and author, share some vital...read more
Taking Care of your COW Tanvi Guatam, international Personal Branding expert says there is a misconception out there that a personal brand is...read more
The importance of Hard Talk Dawn Metcalfe, author of Managing the Matrix and Hard Talk, shares with us tips to achieve the lasting communication...read more
When Does Female Rivalry Turn into Sabotage There’s a lot of stuff written on social media about female rivalry and competition between women. Some...read more
Goal setting tips to boost your career The happiest people are those that really love their jobs. Those that don’t, dread Sunday nights and...read more
Sexism: How to stage a Bystander Intervention in the Workplace In this power coaching podcast, we're going to tackle one of the questions...read more
How to Get Noticed by Head Hunters & Recruiters In this power coaching podcast, we're going to tackle one of the questions asked multiple...read more
What’s your least favourite resume word or phrase? Donna Svei asked this question on LinkedIn last week and got an earful of good advice!read more
Do you have a diversity recruitment strategy? You can’t broaden the scope of your talent pipeline without having a well thought out diversity recruitment strategyread more
5 reasons your executive job search is tanking. Executive job search can be a lengthy process so it’s a good idea to get support to avoid making some basic mistakes.read more