By Yvonne Milosevic
Gender bias at work is a complicated issue in the #MeToo era. One survey found that 60% of male executives feel wary about mentoring, socializing, and working with women in a one-on-one capacity. They fear potential accusations of inappropriate behavior, or worse. But those attitudes mean that efforts at eliminating gender bias often stall at the gate.
Society has to confront the wage gap, sexual harassment issues, and the glass ceiling women face. It’s time to move beyond mere awareness and take action to reduce workplace inequality. Michigan Ross Professor Cindy Schipani thinks one solution is to have more women mentoring men.
“Research has shown that mentoring relationships can really help women as they climb the ladder,” Schipani notes. “But there comes a point where there are no more mentors; you get to a certain level, then you’re kind of on your own.”
When women mentor men, the dynamics shift. It creates more empathy and cooperation. There’s a greater willingness to see each other as people and work for everybody’s success, Schipani says.
More Diversity Equals Less Gender Bias
The value of having a diverse workplace is well known. Tapping into a variety of perspectives can boost teams’ creativity and performance. Research also shows that having an inclusive workplace has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line.
According to this HBR piece on gender bias, when men engage in gender inclusion programs, 96% of organizations see progress — compared to only 30% of organizations where men are not involved. If you’re a man who wants to show support to your female colleagues, ask a woman to mentor you.
By flipping the traditional mentoring script, female executives can model appropriate behavior to more junior men on the corporate ladder, Schipani explains.
“When men and women work together, they learn more about each other, more about different working styles, even more about what kinds of things women go through.”
Plus, by mentoring male co-workers early in their careers, women can help end implicit bias and recondition a new generation of men to view women as equally capable managers.
Schipani hopes more companies will consider starting senior women-junior men mentoring programs. But she admits it’s not without obstacles.
“It’s difficult because of how few women there are in leadership positions,” Schipani explains. “Adding more to the plates of executive women risks stretching them too thin. We don’t want to place a burden on women to fix the problem.”