“Put your head down, work hard, and you’ll be promoted.” Odds are, if you’re a woman, you’ve heard this oft-repeated aphorism about how to get ahead in the workplace. Perhaps, as you started out your career, you even believed it. Yet the rise of #MeToo movement this fall has made clear what women have long suspected (or, in many cases, known): workplace success is tied not only to what we do, but to who we are. And, by extension, our career advancement is in large part determined by who we know.
The reasons for this stark reality are many: a history of (white) women’s exclusion from the workplace; the concentration of organizational power primarily into the hands of white, straight, cisgender men; conscious and unconscious bias; the enduring inequalities in how women and men divide up household work, which takes women away from networking opportunities; and, now, a reluctance on the part of some men to mentor and sponsor women subordinates for fear that their offers of help will be misconstrued.
While these challenges will surely require structural interventions, there is still much that we can do at an individual level to create a fairer, more inclusive work environment for the hardworking women at our own organizations. At Everwise, we have long extolled the value of one-to-one mentorship as a way to support employees with diverse goals, experiences, and ambitions. Mentorship helps high-potential employees develop the skills to take on new challenges, increase their (and their team’s) performance, and prepare for the next step in their career. Over the past five years, we’ve worked with businesses all over the world to bring mentorship to their employees.
Unfortunately, many high-potential women do not have access to mentors within or outside of their organization. In our EverwiseWomen program, we’ve supported the development of over 500 emerging women leaders from across the United States. Although these women are considered to be leaders in their organizations — indeed, their companies signaled their investment in these women by sponsoring them in our program! — nearly two-thirds reported at the start of the program that they did not have a mentor. This finding contradicts the popular belief that women are “over-mentored” and “under-sponsored.” While sponsorship is certainly important (and only 40% of the women who entered our program reported that they had a sponsor), mentorship is just as critical, particularly for women who are at the beginning of their careers.
To ensure that women have equal access to mentorship within their organizations, male senior leaders must resist the temptation to turn around and mentor employees who look just like them. Like Mark Zuckerberg, Bog Iger, Reed Hastings, and Everwise CEO Colin Schiller – I encourage male senior leaders to make the commitment to #MentorHer.