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#METOO movement: Will this be the end of mentoring for women?

In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement across the globe, I wanted to know more.

How would #MeToo impact our dire need for step change in workplace gender equality and diversity? In what way was this going to play out in the Australian landscape? What were the attitudinal shifts of women – not just men?

To find out, we commissioned research of over 600 men and women (mostly Australian) across varying work situations and levels of responsibility. The survey results revealed the activities which caused the biggest change in behaviours post #MeToo.

Scarily, but not surprisingly so, we saw twice as many Aussie men fear working alone with and mentoring a woman as a result of the publicity. In direct correlation to this, we saw albeit smaller declines in the uneasiness women felt in working situations with men.

So now we have women more comfortable with men, and men less willing participants.

When it comes to mentoring it’s all about relationships, about confidential exchange, about breaking it down and building trust. If one of the by-products to come out of the #MeToo movement is the unfortunate increase in men who feel uncomfortable or unwilling to interact with the opposite sex, then any continuation of this behaviour will undoubtedly decrease the opportunities women have at work.

It’s essential that relationships of the opposite gender are cultivated in the workplace, not only to promote diversity, but for the value cross-gender mentoring brings to a company’s cultural development and financial performance.

The report also revealed that while a small number of men and women said they were uncomfortable mentoring the other gender, the biggest level of discomfort from men was teaching women the ‘rules of the game’ (39%) and affirming a woman’s self-worth (22%).

In complete contrast, our findings highlight the key areas of concern for women in the workforce as:

> underestimating their own abilities

> feeling like an imposter and that they don’t belong

> struggling to take credit for their achievements and accomplishments

> holding back from assertiveness for fear of being judged.

Again, we have a situation where men are ill-equipped or hesitant to support women in some of their most significant areas of need.

So how do we, as men and women, continue along this path in a safe and supportive manner – without retreat from either party?

What men can do

Tactically, men can:

> stop waiting for female mentees to be assigned to them and step forward to offer support

> volunteer for formal mentoring programs to show their support in galvanising workplace equality

> take time to learn the nuances of how best to mentor women

> seek to be mentored by women (where possible), to learn from a woman how best to interact with women in the workplace.

Organisations can support men by providing mentoring programs that have defined codes of conduct, specific training for mentors and targeted selection and matching criteria that honours both parties in a mentoring relationship.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all a one-way street and women have their part to play.

What can women do?

Cross-gender mentoring requires taking the time to understand the other gender’s patterns of behaviour and gender stereotypes.

Women should not assume that men are happy to be the full-time breadwinner. In doing so, they continue to perpetuate gender biases in the workplace. Interestingly, our survey revealed that 64% of men (versus 58% of women) said they find it difficult to choose between balancing work and family.

How can organisations ensure healthy mentoring still happens?

To counteract the stigma of sexual harassment post #MeToo, we strongly believe in the beneficial outcomes of a formal mentoring program with an agreed structure and code of conduct. In our continued support of workplace gender diversity, this month we have launched a mentoring program that guides men and women in how to foster more effective mentoring relationships with women, in an attempt to eventually even the playing field.

It’s truly time we work as one and build the strong foundations we so lack.

We might just need a kick-start by the menfolk!

Like to know more? Download the Art of Mentoring Spotlight Report: Cross-Gender Relations in a Post #MeToo World.

RCSA’s Learning and Development team have two half-day sessions coming up, titled 'The Art of Mentoring: Going Beyond the Basic Tools.' Both sessions are aimed at experienced Mentors seeking to go beyond the basics. See below links:

27 September: Melbourne

4 October: Sydney[WU1]

Managing Director, Melissa Richardson, and Sales & Marketing Director, Alex Richardson at Art of Mentoring

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