Why women don’t ask for a mentor

The missed opportunities and benefits without a mentor

Mentoring is considered to be a key ingredient to career success. Yet in the absence of formal mentoring programs women don’t ask for a mentor.

A statement that is much quoted around women and mentoring is that they are over mentored and under sponsored. This suggestion is based mainly on research from Fortune 500 companies which have structured programmes to support the female talent pipeline. However data from SMEs or companies with no formal programmes, tells a different story altogether. In these organisations women are neither mentored nor sponsored to the same degree. The women who do occupy senior roles, also add an interesting ingredient to the complex mix. In the absence of formal mentoring programmes, it would appear that women don’t ask for a mentor either.

Women don't ask for a mentor

The benefits of mentoring

Mentoring is recognised as being a critical component to career success. It provides a number of benefits to both the mentee and mentor:

  •  A neutral confidante  –  this person will provide a neutral and objective sounding board for all concerns and challenges in a safe and confidential environment, without fear of any negative repercussions on a career.
  • A different approach and vision  –  receiving advice and guidance from outside our organisations produces a different perspective and some disruptive thinking. This can range from a new take on business practises and protocols as well as appropriate behaviours and responses. A mentor can also have a different perception of a certain skill set or experience and offer alternatives within a talent management framework.
  • Reduces feelings of isolation – knowing that there is someone there to provide support and guidance can be very reassuring, especially during periods of internal change and transformation. A mentor helps build social capital.
  • Wider knowledge and contacts – working with an external mentor will give contacts and a broader network outside a current organisation. These can add value within both a current role and for the future.
  • Learning a new style of mentoring skills – learning mentoring skills from someone who is outside company culture with a different perspective and vision encourages the development of new skills and a different approach, which will benefit the company in a wider sense.
  • Enhanced performance –  Women in successful mentoring programmes are reported to be more productive and more highly engaged. This is especially important in key years when work/family commitments become challenging and women become disillusioned with toxic workplace cultures and leave in their droves, or they stay and remain under performing.

Contact 3Plus NOW if you think women in your company would benefit from our mentoring services.

Business benefits of mentoring

Mentoring isn’t just about career acceleration but also about talent retention, engagement and knowledge sharing between senior and junior employees and potentially employees from different sides of an organisation and maybe even disparate parts of the same sector. When businesses offer formal mentoring programmes, all reports suggest that women embrace the process willingly. Yet in the absence of corporate offerings, women seem to be less proactive in independently seeking out mentors for themselves.

3Plus explored this element of the mentoring process and surveyed a group of 250 senior women in 2014. The age range was 35 to 60+ in 25 countries and 21 industry sectors. The overall feedback is that these women were indeed willing to become mentors, but junior women don’t seem to ask for a mentor for themselves. The majority of women in that research also indicated that they had never had formal mentors themselves, for the same reason. They had never asked for one.

We are currently updating this research and the numbers to date suggest the same split. At least one-third of women do not ask other, senior women to be their mentor.

Missed opportunities

Why are women reluctant to ask for a mentor? 49% of participants in our survey indicated that they had been asked to become a mentor to a junior woman several times in their careers, 16% had been asked once, but 35% indicated they had never been asked at all.

So what is behind this reticence? One respondent suggested:

“Women seem to rely heavily on peer mentoring and informal conversations in a “let me run this by you” kind of way. They believe, I think mistakenly, this will fill the gap. I know from my own experience that these conversations lack disruptive input, and in many cases the “mentee” is seeking confirmation of an existing view-point.”

Another survey participant added:

“Informal mentoring doesn’t hold the mentee accountable or challenge them. Having a formal mentor is harder work; it means going back to them and discussing outcomes, any downsides and following through. Informal mentors don’t do that. It is less rigorous and therefore a much softer option.”

A final participant added:

“It’s a combination of a number of things. Women don’t ask – period. They are busy and some just don’t think they are deserving”

So it would seem that women don’t ask for a mentor because perhaps they believe that their informal network fills the gap or the old chestnut they lack confidence. But if they did decide they wanted to embark on a structured mentoring programme, all they have to do is reach out and ask.

Don’t miss out on any more opportunities. 3Plus can help you with a mentoring programme that suits you.


3Plus, 3Plus online e-Gazine for professional women, Career, Mentoring, Skill building
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Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.

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