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Men mentoring women in the era of #MeToo, part 2

Finding the right mentor isn't easy. Here is some expert advice for doing so, especially for women in the workplace.

5 min read



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This is the second part of a two-article on men mentoring women. Part 1 focuses on the challenges women may face in finding a mentor.

Mentoring is that investment of self in the development of another, and most successful individuals — not simply in business but also science and academia — have benefited greatly from the experience of a senior colleague advising and coaching them.

If your company is pairing you with a mentor, there is bound to be some degree of formality,” says Sally Helgesen, a longtime leadership advisor and co-author with Marshall Goldsmith of “How Women Rise.” “But if that’s not the case, opening with the question “will you be my mentor?” is rarely a good start.”

Before you begin, perform due diligence. Mentors should look closely at the individual and see if their background warrants your investment in time. Proteges should ask about the mentor — what kind of reputation does he have and whom has he mentored. Talk to them to get a good feel for who they are as people.

Helgesen advises, “Better is to just ask for someone’s advice on an issue they might be able to help you with. If they seem open and are helpful, try to follow up. This is how the best mentoring relationships evolve.”

Establish ground rules

When you begin, establish ground rules. How often will you meet? When and where? And for how long? Will the mentor be available on short notice? At the same time, the mentor should expect the protege to be timely and responsive and regard the experience as something worthy of her time.

“If men and women treat each other with professionalism and respect,” says Shannon Polson, CEO of the Grit Institute, “there should be no concern about a mentoring relationship. It’s arguable that any senior leader should look for the opportunity to mentor those coming up behind him, especially those showing potential who may be disadvantaged by their minority status.”

Theodore J. Iwashyna, M.D., Ph.D,  professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and an advocate of mentoring, says, “It is ridiculous that some men feel they need the woman to make them comfortable. Setting appropriate boundaries is a basic life skill for adults. I’m married, and so that shapes the kind of relationships I can have with other women. I’m a doctor, and so that shapes the kind of relationships I can have with patients. It’s on me, not them, to ensure that those boundaries are maintained.”

“The obligation here ought not be on women to make men feel more comfortable mentoring them,” he says. “It ought to be on those of us with some power and position to be clear to our colleagues what acceptable and unacceptable are.”

Mutual learning experience

As the mentoring continues, be open about what you are learning and how it is helping or not helping. Not every mentoring relationship is the right match, even when both parties enter in good faith. If it is not working, find ways to end, and move on.

“And remember,” says Helgesen, “you don’t always need to take the advice that someone gives you, but you do need to thank them. No ‘that wouldn’t work because’ or ‘I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet.’ Keep your own counsel but actively seek to build relationships with people who can help you grow and develop.”

Be thankful

Finally, when the mentoring is over, thank the mentor for what he has done. The mentor should acknowledge the effort the protege has expended. Cite successes as well as shortcomings. And when things go well, the mentor should encourage the protege to return the favor, and mentor another when time and circumstances warrant.

“Mentorship is best between individuals who share interests, experience or another form of connection,” says Polson. “Women leaders will benefit tremendously from the diverse perspectives both men and women bring to the table — as individual leaders and based on experiences navigating different challenges in their work environments.”

“Mentoring is a great privilege,” says Iwashnya. “People who can’t do the job of mentoring shouldn’t get to do it.” Women can find mentors who aren’t “sexist or harassing jerks.” 

Gender, however, need not be the only criteria, says Polson. “It’s important for leaders to not select a mentor simply based on gender, but rather based on a kind of connection.”

Mentoring succeeds or not on the basis of trust. Without it, there will be little growth; with it, there can be a foundation for a lifetime of success.


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including“MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, “GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.” Learn more about why he wrote “GRACE” in this short video.

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