June 26, 2018
Like many women in engineering, I spent the majority of my career as a leader in a male-dominated organization. I sought out women to mentor me and give me advice on everything from the projects I should lead to how the maternity leave policy worked. Despite the low numbers of women in the oilfield, I rarely had trouble finding one to help guide and advise me. Women helping women was alive, well, and helpful.
But it was the insight that I received from male mentors that balanced out my plate. Because no two career paths are the same, I found the need to seek multiple advisors, creating a type of board or advisory team. This practice is key to the success of many top executives.
Some of the men I worked alongside had valuable perspectives on leadership and how to advance in the company. I eventually realized there are four key benefits to including (and often starting with) male mentors on your advisory team:
Seeing yourself through a different lens. There is certainly nothing wrong with the lens through which women see one another, especially when you find a woman who is committed to empowering and growing women leaders around her. But there is value in being seen through a different perspective. When you add in the different filters of the sexes, you can get valuable feedback about how others perceive you. And when establishing your influence in an organization, perception really matters.
Exchanging gender perspectives to enhance inclusion. Mentoring is often looked at as the receiving of input and info from a sage. But in the process of the mentoring relationship, the mentor also benefits from the perspective and experience of the mentee.
In a cross-gender mentor relationship, the exchanges help both learn to communicate with and relate to the opposite sex. It helps develop the mentee while also building a diversity and inclusion champion in the organization. During the mentoring relationship, you have an opportunity to expose male leaders to the unique challenges women face in the workforce. That, in turn, helps make them better, more empathetic leaders.
Spreading the love. Ultimately, including men in your list of mentors becomes a logical numbers game, especially as you advance in your career. If your organization doesn’t yet have representation of women in key roles, the few women in leadership positions could find themselves spread thin trying to support the women who are coming up behind them.
When I was intentional in finding women mentors, I noticed that they were also mentoring several of my peers, making them harder to reach. Reaching out to male mentors helps spread the love across the organization. Since mentorship is a relationship (and those take time), it helps balance the load for those in a position to mentor.
It’s also important to remember that your mentors need not be inside your organization. Membership in professional associations opens the door to numerous willing and capable mentors. And while you can’t just walk around asking people to mentor you, when you connect with someone who may be an asset to your development, let them know, and then ask them what you can do to support them.
Preparing yourself to mentor others. Research shows that a thriving mentor relationship helps prepare the mentee to be an effective mentor. And you don’t have to wait until you’re at a certain level. You can pay it forward now by seeking others you can mentor based on the impact your mentors have had on you. Don’t fear replicating what your mentor did. With the help of mentor training, you can create your own unique style.
Successful people know that mentoring matters. Utilizing a variety of talent around you to help sharpen your iron is a wise choice. And that talent need not look, talk, or walk like you.