The importance of female mentorship in business

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

Article by Laura-Jane Silverman, Head of LSE Generate

The fallout from the pandemic saw women bear the brunt of its lasting economic impact: they  lost jobs and shifts at a disproportionate rate and spent a greater share of their time on childcare and fulfilling household responsibilities.

Further recent studies have shown that in the last year, female founders also struggled to raise capital, with 49% disclosing that they felt being a woman negatively impacted their chances of raising funds for their company. As a result, now more than ever, the onus is on business and industry to create working conditions that help women advance in their careers.

Despite these added challenges, women are rising to the occasion as strong leaders, taking on the additional responsibilities that come with it. Compared to their male counterparts in senior roles, women are also more likely to support their teams and push diversity, equity and inclusion activities. Many companies, however, still do not recognise or reward these qualities, and therefore risk losing the very leaders they rely on as a result. In turn, the development of more junior female colleagues suffers, as the visibility of women in decision-making roles diminishes.

The value of adapting mentoring programmes to nurture female mentees

Women, especially those just starting out in their careers, or changing roles due to the consequences of the pandemic, need support and guidance more than ever, especially when navigating all of this in a largely male-dominated setup. One way to provide this is through strong and effective mentorship. Mentors can offer a great deal of help in guiding women through the new and unprecedented challenges they face. Additionally, when a female Founder or employee discovers a woman role model to emulate, the impact is all the more powerful and can also go a long way to reduce the gender disparity in business leadership in the long term. By recognising this value, companies can begin to establish robust mentoring programmes, where junior employees are paired with empathetic senior managers, to create a support network which breeds greater confidence and enables excellent professional development.

One way of implementing mentorship in the workplace is through the ‘life-cycle’ model, which includes reverse mentoring, where a senior leader and a more junior colleague mentor one another. For example, the ‘Mentorpreneurship’ programme created by LSE Generate, in partnership with OakNorth, is the first university-run initiative of its kind to engage past, current and future student entrepreneurs in this “life-cycle” of mentoring, helping to develop their businesses and creative ideas. The reverse mentoring method encourages a culture of learning whereby confidence, resilience and leadership qualities are fostered and instilled early on, to give young women the best chance of succeeding and attaining long term goals. Without this type of support, women are less likely to progress into leadership roles, which could widen the pay gap even further and contribute to noninclusive innovation within the workforce. 

The wider impact of mentorship

Women are more satisfied at work and more likely to have successful careers when senior mentors are available on a one-on-one basis to listen to issues and concerns and share experiences and ideas. This results in job-relevant expertise being passed on to new hires, generational divides being bridged, and an increase in employee retention. Furthermore, it not only promotes a more inclusive, forward-thinking working environment, but ultimately helps towards maximising business performance, creativity and opportunities, which results in revenue growth and improved profitability. Additionally, when women are given the opportunity to take control of their financial futures, their employment and business prospects improve and as the companies they develop work for flourish, the potential to impose positive change increases. 

With 71% of Fortune 500 companies offering some form of mentoring programme, it’s clear that mentorship can be a key asset in the career development of female employees, leaders and founders. Therefore, if companies can implement these practices effectively, it will have a wider positive impact on business and society, by supporting and encouraging diversity and equality throughout the entire workforce.

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