If you want to advance even further in your career, it might be a good time to reconsider your mentoring relationships. Your male mentors could be holding you back.
That’s according to new research from the Harvard Business School.
The good news: Women in competitive, male-oriented work cultures earn more and are promoted more quickly when they have male mentors.
The downside: Male mentors don’t push their female mentees as hard as their fellow male protégés.
So you might not naturally get the push you need from a male mentor. But you can if you build a better mentoring relationship.
Two steps forward, one step back?
Why? Men sometimes unconsciously harbor stereotypes about women’s capacities, are overly protective of women or afraid women will get emotional if they’re pushed too hard.
Their chivalrous approach isn’t ideal for women to advance in leadership.
But that’s no reason to shy away from male mentors, especially if you find one to be your ideal fit. After all, male mentors help propel women leaders to higher positions and salaries.
The better approach: Take the initiative to make the mentor relationship work effectively so it benefits both of you.
Maximize the relationship
Here are four ways to maximize your mentor relationships:
- Focus on the most critical areas. Researchers found that male mentors unconsciously hold back with women mentees in two areas – psychosocial functions (such as friendship, encouragement and emotional support) and career functions (such as coaching, visibility, advocacy and setting challenges). Break down the psychosocial walls by requesting some less formal meetings such as coffee breaks where you can talk professionally and personally. Ask flat out for career and coaching advice rather than wait for it. And tell male mentors when you don’t think they’re helping you set big enough challenges.
- Build an empathetic relationship. Critical feedback is important in a mentoring relationship, yet male mentors hold back. They might not recognize that critical feedback can healthfully exist in a relationship built on empathy and kindness. So take the lead, if you must, on empathy. Be genuine and show interest in your mentor’s career and life. Be willing to share your similar interests, challenges and accomplishments.
- Don’t take shortcuts. Accept the challenges your mentor offers, even if they’re well within your reach. Then build on that. Go the extra mile. Do the extra work. Use your above-and-beyond accomplishments as basis for expanded roles and more significant challenges. And, if or when you fall short, ask your mentor, “What would you suggest I do differently next time?”
- Respect your mentor’s style. If you still aren’t getting everything you expect out of a mentoring relationship with a male colleague, assess the fit. Ask yourself: Am I getting wisdom that is aligned with my values and helps me move ahead? Do I admire his leadership style and professionalism? Do we interact naturally? If the relationship isn’t as natural and effective as you want it to be, consider working with another or more mentors. You don’t have to abandon one mentorship that’s not your ideal, but you shouldn’t stay exclusively in one that doesn’t benefit both of you.