The Fear of Mentoring Women

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, one of the worries raised by the participants was a fear of mentoring women in the #MeToo era. Specifically, two thirds of male executives hesitate to hold one on one meetings with women in more junior positions. The December 3rd, 2018 issue of Bloomberg featured an article titled ‘Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era – Avoid Women at All Cost’. 

This is akin to the Catholic Church having a rule for priests to avoid young boys at all costs, which means young boys would be excluded from the confessional box; or managers taking the position that they should avoid meeting alone with Black, Latino or Muslim employees for fear of being accused of bigotry or discrimination.

It is bizarre we are having this debate on men fearing one on one meetings with women given we have failed miserably on the real issue, which is why women fear meeting one on one with men.

So let’s get real here.

There is ample evidence that false claims are extremely rare. In fact, data shows a man is 230 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused. The reality has been and still is, even after the #MeToo movement, that women (and men) are afraid to report sexual harassment and abuse. For most, those who have been brave enough to come forward, end up being portrayed as the villain rather than the target or victim. This we witnessed in spades with the Kavanaugh debacle.

Just over a year ago, in this publication I predicted – “Inclusion of women in the workplace could take a serious hit. To avoid risk of exposures, organizations could be motivated to take the path of least resistance. Diversity may not suffer as much because of legislation or optics, but we should remember in this Harvard Business Review article that being diverse does not translate into being inclusive.” In my article I also predicted the change in workplace dynamics like meeting alone with women.

This year’s World Economic Forum also highlighted the Conference Board’s top concerns CEO’s have, the number one being – attraction and retention of talent. What we are finding is one of the biggest reasons people decide to join and stay is how diverse and inclusive the organization is. Despite the huge spend on D&I, the needle has barely moved. A first step to changing this is for CEO’s and human resources to focus on why women are afraid to meet one on one with men, rather than focus on the bogus issue of men being afraid to meet one on one with women.

The single most influencer of inclusion is the manager/subordinate relationship. I assert that it is impossible for any kind of effective relationship if meeting one on one is avoided.

Constructive, honest feedback is one of the pillars on which sponsorships are based. Sponsorships is one of the catalysts for advancement. If women are not getting feedback from their sponsors because of fear or retaliation, it undercuts the organization’s efforts for more diversity in leadership.

In a Mental Health America/ Faas Foundation survey,  we have found that the majority of North American employees feel excluded because managers are shirking their responsibility as a sponsor, coach and mentor. In most organizations, managers are merely controllers who command and control. Coaching and mentoring are usually provided only to those who have been identified as having a personality problem or those who have been caught in a bad behaviour. What has been lost, for a variety of reasons, is the whole concept of servant leadership where managers are viewed as that of coach and mentor.

To advance this concept, we should stop focusing so much on men as executives and managers; and place more reliance on women as executives and managers because it is a proven fact that they are better executives and managers because they are better coaches and mentors.  Gallop’s ‘State of the American Manager Report’ cites over four decades of research and 27 million responses females outperform their male counterparts when it comes to driving engagement. Positive responses to three questions by employees who have a female boss point to better coaching and mentoring by females. They are:

“. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
. In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my progress.
. In the last seven days, I received recognition for doing good work.”

In our MHA/Faas Foundation survey we are finding that the majority of American employees would answer no to these questions, and I would suggest this is because the majority work for a male.

From my perspective the solution to addressing those that are unwilling to meet one on one with women, is pretty simple – replace them with women. In doing this, organizations can jump start their D&I objectives and help address the attraction and retention concerns.

Andrew Faas is co-CEO of Accordant Advisors, a Public Voices fellow at Yale University and former executive with Weston/Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada. Author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.


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