In the post-#MeToo workplace, women may feel reluctant or uncomfortable about initiating a mentoring relationship with a male colleague.
But shying away from men limits opportunities to learn important career skills about leadership, teamwork and corporate culture. It also limits opportunities for career advancement, says Allison McWilliams, assistant vice president, mentoring and alumni personal & career development and director of Wake Forest University’s Mentoring Resource Center. "Women can and should feel empowered to facilitate their own mentoring experiences.”
“A mentee wants to be in relationship with the mentor because he or she represents something to which the mentee aspires. The mentee wants to learn from the mentor and craves his or her feedback and encouragement,” McWilliams says.
Women professionals should be thoughtful and intentional, rather than anxious, about male mentorship in the workplace. McWilliams suggests the following:
- Do your research. As you seek out a mentor (which may or may not be your immediate supervisor) listen to what colleagues are saying about the person you’re thinking of approaching. Watch for signs of comfort and respect among others in the workplace. Know your potential mentor’s expertise and be able to tell him what skills you’re seeking to improve through the relationship.
- Have a wide network. Let your mentor know that he won’t have to go it alone. Workplace mentoring relationships should be neither needy nor dependent. Having other mentors, sponsors and wise counselors in your life lessens the possibility of any one person holding too much power and lets your mentor know you have others supporting you.
- Know when to end. Mentoring relationships are not reciprocal. If you feel your mentor is offering support on quid pro quo terms, then the person you’re trusting likely does not have your needs and goals first. Trust your instincts. If a situation or a person is making you feel uncomfortable, there is probably a reason for it. Not every mentoring relationship works.
If you’re a male mentoring a female, respect the responsibility, says McWilliams. “Encourage your mentee to seek out additional mentors and resources and help her make these connections. If you’re not connecting her to others who can help her, check your intentions.”