How to Find a Mentor
Smart advice for finding someone to learn from and who is willing to help.
What About the Men?
The ideal mentor is someone who intuitively understands you—and that person can be of either gender. But workplace experts
say that women have an even harder time finding a male mentor. Although females make up about half the workforce, a 2012 Catalyst
study of 10,000 M.B.A. holders found that only 30 percent of men who fostered the careers of others had chosen women to mentor.
What’s more, women tended to be mentored by more junior-level staffers than their male counterparts were. That’s a problem:
The support of men is crucial for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are still more likely to occupy the corner
office and may be in a better position to advocate for women.
One explanation that experts give for the gap is that people are most likely to assist those who are similar to themselves. Therefore men are simply more apt to mentor other men, and women other women. But male-female mentorships may also be thwarted by office politics. A 2010 study conducted by the nonprofit Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), in New York City, a think tank dedicated to workplace issues, found that nearly two-thirds of men in senior positions and half of junior women are nervous about one-on-one contact with members of the opposite sex for fear of watercooler gossip. “We know that this stigma still exists in a lot of companies,” says Beninger. “We need to let go of these perceptions and encourage men to understand the importance of supporting women.”
Ghosn’s first job was at a management consulting firm that had very few female partners. “My mentor was a male, and I was always extremely cognizant of how sitting and talking with him looked to someone else,” she says. For the workplace to change, she says, both men and women need to recognize that the dynamic of a male-female mentorship should be no different from that of a same-sex mentorship. “We have to be able to give women and men the benefit of the doubt when they’re working together,” says Ghosn.
CTI has issued recommendations for facilitating male-female mentorships: Having routine meetings, for example, can go a long way toward silencing the wagging tongues of people who might suggest something untoward is happening. Another idea? “One executive I know always meets with his female protégées at a wonderfully open restaurant, where conversations can take place in the public eye,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president and CEO of CTI. Get-togethers in a high-traffic location make it clear that you have nothing to hide and that your relationship is strictly business.
Then again, you could just stop worrying about optics and focus on maximizing your relationship with a male mentor. “Male allies—whom I call mallies—have connections and leadership lessons of all sorts,” says Rachel Sklar, the New York City-based founder of the women’s networking group TheLi.st, which aims to increase support and opportunities for women in technology and new media. “Track down those whom you can learn from and who are willing to help.”