SKILL TRANSFER // The Benefit of Men as Mentors
by Alex Rose-Innes
The Benefit of Men as Mentors
According to an article in Forbes Magazine, a survey of 4 000 MBA graduates of top schools in Asia, Europe, Canada and the United States of America, highlighted an incredible achievement gap. Both sexes were equally likely to have an active mentor relationship, yet, in their first jobs post-MBA, mentored men had starting salaries of USD9 260 more than those of mentored women. Moreover, the men were promoted more frequently and with greater salary increases, receiving raises of 21% per promotion, compared with just 2% for women. This was true even when years of experience, industry and region were considered.
The study found that mentors are beneficial to the careers of both men and women, but the benefits to men are more pronounced. Men with mentors were 93% more likely to be placed at mid- management level or above and earned USD6 726 more than men without mentors. Women with mentors, on the other hand, were only 56% more likely to be placed
in management and earned just USD661 more than women without mentors. It seems mentors quite literally pay off more for MBA men.
The difference may be due to the mentor’s level within the organisation. More men than women, (62% as opposed to 52%),reported having a mentor at CEO or senior executive level. According to the study, individuals generally choose to associate with others like themselves, which could explain why men are more likely to have male mentors and women more often have female mentors. The disadvantage for women, however, is that men are still more likely to hold senior-level positions, offering them mentors with more clout.
“This study shows the impact of a mentor or sponsor from day one and the difference it makes in promotions and in compensation,” says Christine Silva, director of research and a lead author of the study. “One of the reasons we see the impact on men is that their mentors are more senior and in a position to provide sponsorship. Women’s are not.”
No one questions the value of female mentors for women in technology. Their career moves and personal perspectives are needed to inspire and educate the relatively small number of women in the sector. But many women don’t realise that having a male mentor can be valuable as well.
For close to a decade, the number of women in information technology (IT) has stagnated, remaining at a quarter of the technology workforce, according to the American Bureau of Labour Statistics. That equates to nearly 50% of women in the overall civilian workforce. According to Anandhi Bharadwaj, professor of information systems and operations management at Emory University, the number of men compared with women in tech, makes it imperative that female IT professionals seek out male mentors.
Since men seem to move much more quickly from position to position than their female counterparts, women can benefit from the larger network men can open up to them. “The first person to get passed over for a promotion or to be laid off is the one without the mentor and access to a strong and wide network,” Bharadwaj says. “You have to get both women and male mentors who can look out for you on the job. But they also need to help you be relevant and get you ready for the next promotion.”
Tapping into the wider network that male mentors can offer just makes sense, says Ekaterina Walter, co-founder and CMO of BRANDERATI and author of The Wall Street Journal bestseller Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg. By tapping into that wider network, women get insight into how their male colleagues think and advance. “They know how to play the game and they can help you navigate those waters and will tell you how other male executives think,” Walter explains.
Male mentors may also approach work in a different manner than their female counterparts. “While it’s not a blanket statement, men do have a different approach to problem solving,” Walters says. But she doesn’t discount the notion of having female mentors as well. “Both agendas have amazing things to offer. It’s not a secret, but our minds sometimes work differently.”
Having male mentors also provides insight into how men perceive women in the workplace. Phyllis Kolmus, president of the advocacy group Women in Technology and deputy group director at AT&T Government Solutions, believes it’s wise to get beyond the stereotypes and understand the male point of view in order to overcome workplace prejudice. While that doesn’t mean that discrimination and bias don’t exist, the value of getting into the minds of male colleagues shouldn’t be discounted. “You need female and male mentors,” she says. “All of the studies show that companies benefit from diversity and people benefit from diversity too. If you exclude half the population as mentors, you’ve lost a lot of that potential.”
However, male mentors also learn from their women mentees. In the long run that, too, benefits women in tech. “There’s an unplanned benefit when you engage a male mentor,” says Kolmus. “You open their eyes when you share your experiences. Men can be biased and they don’t always realise it. We’re not only learning from them,” she adds. “They’re learning from us. It can change the world for all of us.”