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Has #metoo hampered mentoring?

Is the #metoo movement unintentionally act as a barrier to mentoring?
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Has #metoo hampered mentoring?

Has #metoo hampered mentoring?

15 August 2019

Professional mentoring is more widespread than it has ever been. But concerns have been raised that the #metoo movement could unintentionally act as a barrier to it. A large recent US survey has provided a snapshot of the current state of mentoring, at least in the USA.

The survey of about 3000 employees was conducted by Olivet Nazarene University in early 2019. One concern that has been raised is that some men may become more reluctant to mentor women because they are fearful of putting themselves in a one-on-one situation with a woman, particularly one that (because of seniority) they may be perceived as being in a position of power over. This in turn could reduce the opportunities for women to find good mentors because men still outnumber women in senior roles in most organisations. Note also that the relationship between mentor and mentee must be based fundamentally on mutual trust.
This article summarises the survey’s main findings and recommends some actions that HR can take to promote effective mentoring.

The extent of mentoring

More than half (56%) the surveyed employees have had a mentor at some stage and 37% currently had one. The majority (57%) described themselves as junior-level employees, with 35% being mid-level and 8% senior-level.
More than 80% believed that their “mentor” would have identified him/herself as the mentor.

About 60% of mentors worked for the same organisation as their mentees, 60% mentored more than one person and in about one-third of cases the mentoring relationship had continued through multiple jobs.

As might be expected, more than three-quarters of employees regarded their mentoring relationship as important or very important. Only 6% said it was not important.

How it commenced

In most cases (61%), the mentoring relationship gradually evolved. One-quarter of mentors offered to mentor the employee, and 14% of employees asked a mentor to do it.

How the relationship works

Significantly, a large majority of mentoring relationships involved two people of the same gender. Only 31% of women were mentored by a man and 18% of men were mentored by a woman. In some industries and organisations, it may be very difficult for women to find women in senior roles to mentor them.
Mentoring relationships tend to be long-term, with an average length of 3.3 years. The average time the parties spent together was about four hours per month, or about one hour per week. About 40% said it was fairly difficult or very difficult to arrange time with their mentor.

A majority of relationships were casual or unstructured, but just over 40% involved setting formal goals.

Dealing with potential negative consequences of #metoo

What can HR do if it encounters men who are potentially good mentors, but are reluctant to mentor women because they are fearful of potential #metoo-type consequences? Or for that matter, women who are reluctant to mentor men?
The capacity of HR to persuade them to be mentors may be quite limited, but HR can provide assistance in the forms of a supportive environment and guidance on how to be an effective mentor.
That said, the fundamental basis of a good mentoring relationship is mutual trust between the parties. Without that, mentoring is doomed to failure. The second caution to note is that the survey found that more than 60% of mentoring relationships “evolved gradually” – which suggests that mentoring was not the original intention of the parties, nor did HR or anyone else in the organisation have control or influence over it. A third point is the survey finding that about 40% of mentoring relationships were between two people who worked for different organisations – again largely beyond the control of their employers.

If, however, mentoring is an in-house arrangement between two of your employees, there are some steps that HR can take which may help. These include:
  • assistance with matching up mentors and mentees
  • educating potential mentors in the benefits for them of becoming mentors – for example enhanced professional reputation  and status, personal growth and learning, greater meaning and purpose in work, and exposure to other viewpoints
  • training and coaching employees in how to be better mentors – both initial and ongoing
  • if there is a formal mentoring program, setting guidelines for contact between the parties and goals for the program
  • ensuring the organisation, as required by law, has effective anti-sexual harassment and anti-bullying policies, and that all employees are aware of their obligations to comply and have been trained in how to comply.

If someone is keen to be a mentor but nervous about being paired with someone in the same organisation, you could encourage them to contact the professional organisation that covers their occupation. Many of these have mentoring programs – for example the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) runs one for HR practitioners.
Finally, note that a mentoring relationship is not appropriate “forever”, even though the survey reported an average length of more than three years. Circumstances change, people move on, and they may benefit from different types of assistance at different stages of their careers. There are also benefits from exposure to diversity of backgrounds, experience and perspectives.

Further information

Read the survey.

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