Men opting out of mentoring women is a leadership failure

by | Sep 19, 2019

Why are men opting out of mentoring women?

Men opting out of mentoring women suggests that it is women who are at fault, rather than men's behaviours. This is a leadership failure that needs to be addressed.

There are a number of reports of men opting out of mentoring women because they're becoming anxious about cross-gender mentoring. This is a development which needs to be revisited and reassessed because it touches on the overlapping areas of boundary setting, inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment. The message on this is that it is very much a leadership issue.

Many organizations still have few women in leadership positions. Therefore the responsibility of senior executives (by default predominantly male) to groom and develop future leaders, is significant. However, the lack of women in senior roles means we rely on men to advance women's careers through mentoring. For many junior female employees it's their only option. If men opt out of mentoring women, either passively by failing to volunteer, or actively by refusing to participate, this is going to have significant impact on women’s careers. As a result, it will affect their ability to advance to leadership positions. There's a potential double fall-out for women of colour, who are marginalized on two counts.

3Plus has a team of high-profile mentors with a wide rang of experiences. Contact 3Plus today to find the right mentor for you.

The nature of mentoring means there needs to be a close professional relationship between the mentee and the mentor. Note the word professional. However, this is set against a cultural background of toxic male-coded cultures both in the workplace and a wider sense. Acts of open misogyny have been exposed and fully reported in our media especially after the #MeToo scandals. Against this backdrop, some men feel their everyday workplace interactions with women employees make them vulnerable for accusations of impropriety. Running scared, they prefer to eliminate the problem altogether, by disposing of the mentoring relationship. They identify the issue as  being the fault of the women, rather than the behaviour of other men. They fail to properly consider that it is possible to build a supportive mentoring relationship where the notion of anything inappropriate would be completely foreign.

Men opting out of mentoring women or any other professional interactions (travel, dinners, networking events etc.) suggests two things:

1. Men are unable to control their behaviour

There's a suggestion that men can't control their own behaviour and as such, can’t be held responsible for their actions so women have to be removed from the equation. It also implies that they don’t understand what is involved in “inappropriate conduct.” This does a disservice to those male leaders who conduct their activities with transparency and integrity. For any employee, who deliberately avoids interaction with another, for fear of false accusations of impropriety, will limit and potentially damage business success.

Men who mentor emerging women leaders have a duty of care to their mentees. Their role is to make sure they enjoy the same rights and level of protection as their male colleagues. They should recognise their mentees' skills and experience and the contribution they can make to the organization.

2. Women are sexually manipulative

It falls into the old gender-stereotype trap; women are sexually manipulative and will do anything to reach their goals.

Achieving gender equality is a goal that all organisations should embrace. It ought to be a mission and message that is communicated to all employees. Male leaders should be responsible for the well-being of all their employees. Therefore, they should be tasked with helping them all reach their potential. Unconscious bias and sensitivity training around toxic masculinity should communicate best practices to all involved in the mentoring process.

The recent spate of #MeToo exposés suggests that the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour has become blurred. It smacks of cultures where the intolerable has been tolerated and where the level of collusion is high. ‘The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.” (Gruenter and Whitaker)

Our most senior leaders have to draw the line in the sand with clear zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment. There should be clear guidelines of what behaviours are inappropriate enforced by clearly defined codes of professional workplace conduct signed by all employees. Any contraventions should carry penalties.

This means that if the trend of men opting out of mentoring women continues, our leaders are not doing their jobs. As such, it is a sign of a significant leadership failure.

Do you think that women in your company need more support? Contact 3Plus to find out more about our Mentoring Programmes HERE.

If you feel passionate about gender balance and topical issues impacting women in the workplace 3Plus would be delighted to publish your work. Don't wait - send it in

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