At Davos last month 22% of the 3,000 attendees were women.. The topic positively turned to gender diversity and parity. With a low percentage of women one would think that the topic would be one of how do we progress this. And yet this appeared on The New York Times - "Male Managers Fearful of Mentoring Women".
This leaves me feeling both confused and disappointed at the loss of a constructive dialogue. The essence of the article states that some male managers and executives reported that they are wary of having one to one meetings or social interactions with a woman. Aside from it being discriminatory, it doesn't make sense. They are proposing that they cannot be managers or leaders. To be either, or at least a good leader, you need to be comfortable with yourself and with anyone in your team
To the anonymous leaders that are sensitive to having a coffee or a conversation with half the population, I must respond. As a woman who has had the most supportive and ambitious mentors, men and women this is not an option. As a leader of a team, a division or an organisation it is part of your role. The best leaders are those that are compassionate, connected and empathetic and know how to ask for help.
Leadership is about connections, if you want to lead and people to listen, follow and feel part of the journey you need to connect with them. Compassionate leaders are the ones that lead by example, surrounding themselves with diverse thinking, experience and skills so that they all succeed together. And when they don't know the answer, as humans this is the case, you ask for help.
We do need to be sensitive when men, and women, do not understand boundaries and acceptable behaviours. The more we openly discuss such issues the more they will be addressed. We need to encourage men to ask what is acceptable without any fear. We want to encourage conversations about what is acceptable behaviour, or what does flexible working mean to working parents, or what does being inclusive mean. The questions have been around for decades, they are now being asked not just by women, but also men.
Gender diversity is a leadership issue and an imperative one. Mentoring women is part of a leaders role. Any business that is not advocating the mentoring and sponsorship of women will not achieve gender diversity, and diversity throughout. Overheleminly the most progressive organisations are investing in gender specific programmes and offering future leaders mentoring.
As an advocate of women specifically empowering women through mentoring , I believe we all need each other to partner and lead together. Because that is what great open leaders do.
Susan Sheehan is the CEO and Founder of Back Yourself Mentoring. They aim is to empower women through mentoring relationships while accelerating organisations diverse leadership.