Are women mentoring too much?

by Cameron Edmond16 Oct 2013

Top managers in global firms may be risking their own ascent through the organisation due to too much downward mentoring.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Joann S. Lublin explored the sacrifices many women are making to their own careers when they take on a junior protégé.

Suzanne West, program manager at Textron, was told during her last review that she mentors too much.

West stated there were definite costs to mentoring, but that it is her duty to pass on knowledge, and so never turns down a request. She has mentored 10 employees since 2008.

"Being a mentor is something I am really passionate about,” she stated.

The downside of mentoring stems from the mentors halting their own networking needs, as they are not dealing with those in higher positions as much as they are those at their mentee’s level. This can result in fewer chances to land sponsors, and therefore less promotional opportunities.

Lublin stated women are already at a disadvantage, with men 46% more likely to have sponsors than women, as found in a study by The Centre for Talent Innovation in New York.

However, these findings and anecdotes do not denounce mentoring, but simply suggest that women must be measured in how they approach it, and how many mentees they take on at a time.

Indeed, research has indicated that mentoring is a two-way street and can benefit the mentor as much as the mentee. It can also embed professional development and networking into corporate culture, benefitting all.

“It consciously fosters a development oriented culture and sets an expectation with all leaders, even those who aren’t mentors, that it is something the organisation values,” Shannon Lawrence, principle consultant at DDI, told HC.

The act of mentoring could also potentially allow a mentor to increase their own network if they gear their protégé towards senior management levels.

Lawrence described the role of a mentor as “Helping people to gain exposure to more senior levels of an organisation, expanding their networks, broadening their knowledge of strategic issues.”

Lawrence referenced back to research conducted by DDI, and indicated that formalised mentoring programs are the most beneficial to organisations, as they provide a measured and structured framework for which mentoring relationships can hang off. This may reduce the chances of women taking on more mentees than they should.

“If a program is formalised, there is a greater likelihood that mentoring relationshipsare going to be more purposeful than if it is unstructured and left to people’s discretion. If you are trying to drive specific outcomes, such as a desire to see high potential people being more aware of the organisation’s strategies, and better able to face specific challenges the organisation is faced with, then you need to put some structure around that,” she said.

Rosalind Hudnell, HR vice president at Intel, stated that being selective of her protégés has helped her ensure she is mentoring a small number of high performing employees, allowing her the necessary time to continue networking upward.



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