How Men Overcome Discomfort Mentoring Women

476 of the Fortune 500 were led by men in 2018 – only 24 were led by women. (CNBC)

Birds of a feather:

The birds-of-a-feather principle suggests that we build relationships with people who are like us.

Elders tend to hang with elders. There’s a hip coffee shop in town. I never go there unless I’m with a young person.

Doctors build stronger relationships with doctors. Baptists fellowship with Baptists, and women have more female friends than men.

“Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order.” (Annual Review of Sociology)

Women are disadvantaged when most top leaders are male.

Men mentoring women:

Bloomberg ran a business article with the headline, “Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost.”

Joan Kuhl, author of Dig Your Heels In, offers three practical suggestions for men who feel uncomfortable mentoring women.

  1. You can’t have different rules for men and women. You might prefer public spaces or coffee shops for mentoring conversations. If you take male mentees to sporting events, you must include female mentees.
  2. Establish trust from the start. Be willing to listen to hard feedback about company culture.
  3. Focus on goals and skills. Make the relationship development specific to the business.

What about touch:

I recently wrote about hugging a man in the men’s room. Physical touch is part of human existence. But, set clear boundaries.

  1. No lingering touches.
  2. Pat on the upper-back or forearm.
  3. Offer a hug, but don’t dive in. Give people a chance to express discomfort. (See video below.)
  4. Be aware of the connection between power and intimidation through touch.

Joan Kuhl on men mentoring women and physical touch in the workplace:

What suggestions do you have for men who are uncomfortable mentoring women?

Bonus material:

Advice for Men Who Are Nervous About Mentoring Women (HBR)

Myths about false accusation (Stanford)

Understanding Diversity Mentoring (David Clutterbuck)