Home    Insight    Insight

Can men be effective mentors to women?

 April 24, 2013

 Read time

According to the Women on boards 2013 report, women now account for 13.2 per cent of directorships on FTSE 250 boards, up from in 6.7 per cent in 2010. Women are represented on 183 boards out of 250, meaning that only about one out of four boardrooms remains exclusively male.

There has definitely been progress in getting female directors into FTSE boardrooms, thanks to the efforts of campaigners, the pragmatism of decision-makers, and the determination and talent of many women. It’s clear, however, that women at the upper echelons of successful companies are still a stark minority.

As we previously blogged, one way that companies can get more women to directorship level is to connect them with experienced mentors. And it seems female mentees are pairing with seasoned women, rather than linking up with senior men. A 2009 study by researchers at the Telfer School of Management found that women were significantly more likely to be mentored by a woman. Contrast this with their male counterparts, who were equally likely to have a mentor of either gender.

If up-and-coming women are seeking out mentors of the same gender, there will be tough competition for the attentions of that small number of women at the top. So it’s a practical matter and a pertinent question: can men mentor women effectively?

If, as some say, women face obstacles that men don’t in climbing the corporate ladder, it might make better sense if a woman seeks out a mentor of the same gender. That way, mentor and mentee can discuss those unique issues and how best to tackle them. 

Also, in mentoring partnerships of the same gender, there may be less of a risk of sexual harassment or undertones. And, it’s worth noting, they’ll be less likely to set the rumour mill a-grinding - an annoying reality of working life, but one that’s important to take into account.

But for women looking to increase their influence in a male-dominated firm or industry, the perspective of an experienced male colleague might be useful. In businesses where an “old boys club” culture still prevails, feedback from male mentors could help women to make connections and overcome discriminating barriers.

All mentors bring different things to the table, but a good one will reliably have a few important attributes. They will be willing to share contacts, skills, knowledge and expertise, and will be ready to focus on their mentee’s goals. They will take the time and energy to provide guidance to their protégée, without making decisions in her place.

At the end of the day, a good mentor is a good mentor. Choosing the right mentor for you will depend on the qualities that person possesses; but it will also depend on your goals, the stage you’re at in your career, your personal preferences and what you hope to get out of the relationship. These are all things that should be discussed at the outset of a mentorship, so that both parties know what’s expected of them. Without a clear vision, commitment and input from both sides, a mentee won’t learn much from even the best of mentors – female or male.
Companies like Royal Mail have excellent mentoring programmes so that their employees are well supported and guided as they progress their careers.

Stay connected by subscribing to our monthly newsletter and following us on LinkedIn, X, Instagram and Facebook.

Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.


Join our women's careers community