How mentorship can encourage more female business leaders

Diverse old and young female colleagues talking at work, african and caucasian business women sitting together in office having friendly conversation, mentor intern discussing planning shared project, Menopause

The conversation around how we increase the number of female founders and women in leadership positions in business is by no means a new one.

Improving gender inclusivity within companies has known benefits: boosting creativity, staff retention and financial performance to name but a few.  The real discussion, however, needs to focus around the practical steps required to ensure this ideal becomes a sustained reality.

Mentorship – whether implemented as a formal structure or an informal relationship building exercise – is a proven method to enable women to progress faster in the workplace, diversifying skills and encouraging entrepreneurial thinking. While systemic challenges remain within the more traditionally male dominated workplaces, there are clear signs that mentorship is having a tangible impact throughout many industries. 

Global research from Women in Tech shows the potential for mentorship schemes – with 89% of women who have participated in related programmes feeling empowered by the experience and 97% finding it valuable.  Just recently, Microsoft announced its Xbox mentorship programme to encourage more women into the gaming industry. Where forward thinking giants such as this tread, others are sure to follow in their footsteps. 

Creating mentorship programmes for female employees already within or entering the workplace, can be extremely valuable but how about starting this process even earlier, to foster entrepreneurial mindsets and pave the way for the leaders of the future?  

Here at LSE Generate, we have been embedding and promoting mentorship  through our “Mentorpreneurship” programme in partnership with OakNorth bank. The initiative is the first of its kind to engage past, current and future student entrepreneurs in a ‘life-cycle’ of mentoring and as part of the programme, we’ve partnered with Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) to offer an entrepreneurship certificate course for children across a number of UK schools. 

Since June last year 1,800 school children and undergraduates have participated, 500 of them having received mentoring so far. The goal is to hit 20,000 participants across 100 schools and universities by 2026. This ‘life-cycle’  mentorship model challenges traditional methods of mentoring by introducing reverse and peer to peer collaborations in order to question biases and encourage innovation. For example, participants are enabled to not only receive mentorship but also ‘mentor upwards’ offering unique perspectives to senior leaders in business.  

Furthermore, to support a wider pool of new and existing businesses, employees and entrepreneurs benefit from mentorship, we have also recently launched a new Certificate in Mentorship – which looks to break new ground by providing formal training and recognition to aspiring mentors, through the knowledge and experience of the existing LSE network. 

Mentorship that begins within education and continues throughout various career and business stages has the added advantage of instilling, early on, abilities such as resilience and adaptability, as well as problem solving and communication skills. Learning how to bounce back from setbacks, take risks and deal with failure are essential for anyone looking to start their own business or move into a position of leadership. 

To achieve this, traditional ‘top down’ mentorship methods can be combined with innovative practices such as reverse and peer to peer approaches, to help inspire creative thinking and see challenges in a fresh light. The important thing to remember is flexibility is key and the style of mentorship should reflect the objectives and needs of the participants and promote transparency, honesty and trust.  

We know the theory around the positives of gender diversity in business, but now it’s time to put more practical steps into action and implement programmes and initiatives that will truly help the female leaders of tomorrow flourish. Mentorship can provide just this, and it’s never too early to start.  

Laura-Jane SilvermanAbout the author

Laura-Jane Silverman is Head of LSE Generate, the entrepreneurship hub at The London School of Economics.  

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