“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
If women got a dollar for every time someone said Madeline Allbright’s famous quote, then perhaps the gender pay gap would be erased.
Mentoring, the great buzzword of workplaces, is often mentioned with the hope of recruiting young employees, at universities as a way to grow confidence, and by industry papers as a solution for solving diversity. But what does it all mean?
At its essence, mentoring means advising and training someone. Sounds simple. But that’s where it can fall flat. At its core, it is a relationship.
Navigating your career is all snakes and ladders. Well, at least that’s what a fellow feminist friend of mine, Marian Rakosoi says. At key points in your working life you can choose to build someone up or push them down – it’s all in the support your provide. Rakosoi, who works in early childhood education, experienced the snake end of the game when a senior staff member responded to a new learning activity she created by telling her not to outshine the other employees. Discouraging women who exceed in their performance at work cuts down potential productivity and confidence, especially for junior workers.
In a world where more than half the population – women – are significantly underemployed, underpaid and undervalued, women do plenty of work but generally in supporting roles. Why is the glass ceiling so shatterproof? Could it be that women just aren’t interested in senior roles? I call bullshit. So does ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie who says, we will have equality when there as many incompetent female CEOS as there are male CEOS.
It’s 2016 but the mentality of boys clubs and jobs for mates persists. A lack of women-specific networking initiatives, and systemic sexism in corporate culture, through things like the gender pay gap and poor workplace support for mothers, means it’s often far easier for men to find a mentor than women. On the other hand, there’s an idea that women actually need less mentoring (advice), and more sponsoring (endorsement), something men are better at providing.
We have to create the circumstances for these women to thrive. Women are incredibly good at organisational and support roles, as demonstrated by their historical and continuing work in the domestic sphere. To become a leader, women are frequently told to man up, have balls of steel, but what this overrides is the consultative, nurturing qualities any leader should have. Strengths that women can bring to leadership and also to mentoring.
A key part of mentoring is not only the establishing connections, but also seeking out opportunities to elevate less privileged voices. One place where this is done is networking programs. General Manager of Hearst-Bauer Media, Marina Go, believes programs like MEAA’s Women in Media program are important because “increasing the quantity of successful females role models is necessary for future gender equality”.
Whether it’s a professional, or personal relationship, mentors are more than a magic 8 ball of advice. Programs like Raise and Sister 2 Sister connect older women with at-risk teenage girls or young mothers to provide guidance through organised skills based workshops and social activities. Meanwhile, my very own feminist fairy godmother, Van Badham, says without her mentor journalist Jenna Price, she would be a blubbering mess.
Being a positive role model in mentoring is about representation, as much as it is about good advice. An error made by many is employing people who not only think similarly to you, but look like you, talk like you and have similar life experiences. And the industry knows that companies who say merit is the key in hiring, are often the most homogenous. Familiarity breeds contentment, and contentment breeds boring and white bread ideas.
Privileged, white, able-bodied, cis women like myself are prone to throwing other women under the bus. The suffragette movement perfectly exemplifies how such discrimination was embodied through narrow-minded networking and prejudice. White women climbed the ladder, pulled it out from behind them causing WOC to slide down the slippery snake. I’m glad they made the progress they did, but the compromises they made and the lack of guidance they gave reinforced racism and structural inequality.
In male-dominated fields women’s mentoring programs are essential for creating supportive spaces. Samantha Hood from the Curious Minds STEM program says listening and validating the experiences of high school students is an important part of her work. This is even more crucial for young women from low socioeconomic backgrounds who may be the first in their family to attend university. She says their unconscious bias means they are often apprehensive, but with confidence they find they often excel and are the best in their class.
Mentoring gets women into the workplace, helps them stay there, and assists them to gather in management positions. So why aren’t more women doing it? Consider this, supporting other women is a labor of love, it’s unpaid, it takes time and to some it’s seen as a risk – that your good guidance could see some other woman leapfrog you into a job. It’s scary but having more talented women is worth it. Plus, if you’re doing your best, than what’s the worry?!
Changing the game means looking for those voices that bring something new, and amplifying them, and not caring if you’re well liked for bucking the status quo. This is something infamous ad executive Cindy Gallop embodies in her actions and words: you need to stop listening to other white men if you want to own the future.
Whether you’re a mentor, a mentee, or searching for your feminist fairy godmother, look beyond competitive trappings and foster a landscape of diverse, inclusive support networks.
IMAGE CREDIT: iStock