How to be an ally: Launch a formal mentorship program

“The three-month mentorship program at my company literally changed the trajectory of my career. I received a significant promotion because of it and I gained an ongoing advocated.”

—Anne, Women of Divvy Mentee

Because women are less likely to have informal relationships with male leaders, formal mentoring programs can make a huge difference.   

My male sponsors helped me negotiate a 50% raise when I was out of pay parity with my male counterparts. 

They helped my work get noticed and advocated for me to the executive team.

They gave me opportunities to own new projects, lead in hiring, and take career courses. 

We need more men who are willing to mentor women.

Good mentors use good judgment

Because of my conservative upbringing, I was initially wary of one-on-one male-female professional interactions. When I entered the tech space and needed a mentor, I asked my male bosses if they “knew any women who could mentor me”—rather than recognizing the two mentors staring me in the face. 

I was trying to be respectful, understanding, sensitive. Thankfully, these guys are class acts. So they gave me a few recommendations for mentors, but also went out of their way to sponsor me. 

Sheryl Sanberg acknowledges this dilemma in her book: Many junior women and senior men avoid mentoring relationships out of fear of what others might think. 

Junior men don’t have the same problem. There’s no uncomfortable feeling or questionable motive (hopefully). 

But gender doesn’t need to be an issue here. Both men and women can approach male-female mentoring opportunities from a place of professionalism and respect. And everyone else? 

“We cannot assume that interactions between men and women have a sexual component,” continues Sandberg. “And everyone involved has to make sure to behave professionally so women—and men—feel safe in all settings.”

The benefit of formal mentorship programs

But what about the uncomfortable feeling? What about the attraction issue?

It’s not just a one-off concern. In a post #metoo world, 60% of men are uncomfortable having mentoring relationships with women. 

Rather than validating this excuse, David Smith and Brad Johnson tell men to get over it. Turns out, there’s an easy solution: Men have a frontal lobe. 

You can mentor a woman (attractive or not) and still have good judgment. 

This is important because:

  • Mathematically, there aren’t enough women in leadership for female-only mentorships.
  • Financially, women make more money and receive promotions when they have a male mentor. 
  • Statistically, men experience benefits from mentoring women—from increased access to information to better interpersonal skills. 

The data shows that when mentorship is done right, everybody flourishes. Formal mentorship programs can provide this framework.

Allies at work: Formal mentorship

Hopefully, your HR team or Women’s ERG is already invested in building formal mentoring programs. If they’re not, there are a few things male allies can do: 

  • Work with your HR department to set up a company-wide mentorship program. 
  • Use one-on-ones within your department as mentoring opportunities until a formal program is launched. 
  • Reach out to your Women’s ERG leaders and volunteer to be a mentor for events. (Pro tip: If you’re already going to the meetings and speaking up as an ally, it will be less presumptuous when you volunteer).

For my friend Danica, having her male manager as a formal sponsor completely changed her career goals. In every one-on-one, he advocated for her success. 

“He’d say, ‘You’re going to shoot for the stars, so tell me where we’re aiming.’ I can’t even say how much that meant to me at that point in my career.”

Men, let’s help women shoot for the stars by being formal mentors and sponsors. 


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