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Mentoring and gender bias
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How a mentoring scheme can beat gender bias in the workplace

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Six ways that L&D can bring mentoring practices into the workplace to beat gender bias and empower female employees.

1st Jun 2022
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Gender bias is the enemy of equal opportunity and despite the in-roads made in women's career progression over the last two decades, gender bias in the workplace still remains a very real elephant in the room.

Time to move beyond conventional mentoring

Gender bias has lingered in the portrayal of learning and development and this includes mentoring where, stereotypically, the narrative has centred around male leaders helping women.

Although there are benefits of male mentors – and indeed great examples of men advocating for women – there are huge gains to be had by increasing the participation of women as mentors. Not least in helping to overcome gender bias in the workplace.

Mentoring can open up avenues of conversation about gender bias and discrimination against women in the workplace

Try out reciprocal mentoring

Mentoring programmes that buck this ill-founded stereotype can be eye opening for leadership teams. Learning from those who experience the challenges of gender bias in their personal and professional lives is imperative if a company is to create a truly inclusive workplace. Whilst supporting women with progression through mentoring can help address the well-documented dearth of women at senior levels in business. 

Six ways to tackle gender bias with mentoring

A two-way learning experience that benefits both the mentor and mentee can help organisations overcome gender bias. Here’s how:

1. Offset gender stereotypes with different perspectives

Mentoring can open up avenues of conversation about gender bias and discrimination against women in the workplace. And because bias or stereotypes can change when people get new observations, it would be true to say that mentoring has the potential to help eliminate inaccurate and persistent perceptions of women. In turn, hearing new or different perspectives can drive the cultural change that is so key to equal organisations.

2. Increase awareness with a ‘multi mentor’ programme

A team-style mentor programme – where the mentee has the opportunity to work with multiple mentors, instead of being limited to one – will increase the opportunity for an individual to hear multiple perspectives from across an organisation. Indeed, having multiple opportunities to learn and develop – a principle which sits at the core of mentoring – can help remove bias. After all, everyone has a story to tell and a lesson to teach and no two persons’ will be the same.

The hybrid workplace has increased the opportunity for more people to participate in mentoring by removing the limitations of geographical proximity

3. Uncover untapped skills

Mentoring can help break down the barriers that impede the advancement of individuals in the workplace.  A programme that encompasses reciprocal mentoring – where the onus of learning is on both parties – can help leaders uncover hidden skills amongst female employees.

It is one-to-one engagement that can lead mentors to discover skill-sets that might otherwise go unnoticed in group scenarios. In turn, advocating can help accelerate the progression of women in the workplace.

4. Squash limiting beliefs

Gender stereotyping is considered to be a significant issue obstructing the career progressions of women in management. The fact is, many women are working against a long-standing – and ill-founded – narrative of males as leaders. So it is not unusual for someone to experience imposter syndrome – the feeling that one is a fraud, even if they are entirely qualified and capable. 

Indeed, lack of physical representation can feed into imposter syndrome. Although female representation at board level across FTSE 100 companies has risen – 40% of positions now held by women, compared with just 12.5% 10 years ago – women are still the exception rather than the rule in executive roles. Mentoring can help squash limiting beliefs that can exist when one assumes and can guide individuals to break through the glass ceiling.

5. Increase participation of women

The hybrid workplace has increased the opportunity for more people to participate in mentoring by removing the limitations of geographical proximity. Not only does this mean that organisations can increase the participation of women as mentees but it also means that organisations can increase the participation of women as mentors. 

The latter not only helps to remove the negative bias that exists about the ability of women to lead but also increases the physical representation of women in leadership positions.

Incorporating L&D strategies into the foundation of an organisation – specifically, those that value and embolden women – will accelerate change

6. Create a sense of belonging

Building a workplace where individuals feel they belong – a perception of acceptance within a given group – can encourage individuals to bring their whole, authentic selves to the workplace. Tapping into mentoring as a vehicle to engage with, actively listen to, and support female employees can be a powerful way to tackle gender bias.

Plus, the safety of the space created in a mentor and mentee relationship can be vital for someone to air both professional concerns and personal anguish. In turn, increasing an individual’s sense of belonging.

Mentoring reimagined

Eradicating gender bias and gender stereotyping will take time. However, incorporating learning and development strategies into the foundation of an organisation – specifically, those that value and embolden women – will accelerate change.

Interested in this topic? Read Why gender equality relies on more learning and development for women.

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