Make a commitment to mentoring women

Increasingly the most populous segment of the workforce

To the reader:

In my January 11 and April 4 columns for BizTimes Milwaukee, I wrote about the important strategic issue of developing mentoring programs for women. I made a very strong business case for this, observing that women will be the largest group of new entrants to the workforce over the next few years.

Employers in Wisconsin will want to particularly take note of this, given that Wisconsin has an aging workforce (we have a high percentage of baby boomers in our workforce); we are a “brain drain” state (many new college graduates, especially young women, earn their degrees here and then take jobs elsewhere); and we are a slow job growth state (people seeking work have more options elsewhere).

In my May 16 column in BizTimes, I defined mentoring and wrote about the three key skills (understanding self and others, communicating effectively and developing employees)  mentors must effectively fulfill to be successful.

In this column, I outline the building blocks for an organization-based mentoring program.

To be clear at the outset, my premise is that if organizations want to hire and retain the best talent, in light of the trends I reference in the preceding paragraphs, it is simply smart business to make sure organizations are doing all they can to hire and retain talented female employees.

Women currently outnumber men at both the bachelor’s and graduate degree levels within American higher education. This is a numbers game that must be given notice for organizations that want to be sure they have the best possible talent on board.

Organizations that want to systematically develop the talents of women should follow the suggestions promulgated by The National Mentoring Partnership, which in 2015 published “Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring.” The National Mentoring Partnership outlines six pillars of effective mentoring programs:

  • Recruitment
    The program must recruit appropriate mentors and mentees by realistically describing its aims and expected outcomes.
  • Screening
    The program must screen prospective mentors to determine whether they have the time, commitment and personal qualities to be safe and effective mentors, and screen prospective mentees about whether they have the time, commitment and desire to be effectively mentored.
  • Training
    The program must train prospective mentors, mentees and mentees’ sponsors (e.g., managers) in the basic knowledge, attitudes and skills needed to build an effective and safe mentoring relationship using culturally appropriate language and tools.
  • Matching and Initiating
    The program must match mentors and mentees and initiate mentoring relationships using strategies likely to increase the odds mentoring relationships will endure and be effective.
  • Monitoring and Support
    The program must monitor mentoring relationship milestones and support matches through ongoing advice, problem solving, training and access to resources for the duration of the relationship.
  • Closure
    The program must facilitate bringing the match to a closure in a way that affirms the contributions of the mentor and mentee, and offers them the opportunity to prepare for the closure and assess the experience.

These six foundational elements are applicable to all mentoring programs, regardless of the organizational context (school settings, work settings, volunteer settings, etc.). They are applicable to people of all ages and demographic backgrounds. Again, just to be entirely clear, my point in shining the light on the need for mentoring programs for women is driven by my understanding of the workforce trends that are unfolding (mentioned above) and my knowledge that historically women, as Harvard Business Review provocatively stated, “have been under-mentored and over-managed.”

For too long, men have differentially benefitted from mentoring relationships in which up-and-coming male talent has been groomed by senior and powerful male leaders who are the movers and shakers. This good old boys model must be challenged, moving forward, and replaced by a model that explicitly says, “In our organization, top leaders invest in the development of future leaders, regardless of race or gender. We recognize that women are increasingly the most populous segment of our workforce and strategically, we must do everything we can do to develop the talents of women to the fullest extent possible.”

-Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D. is president and CEO of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants Inc. (www.od-consultants.com). He can be reached at (888) 827-1901 or Dan.Schroeder@OD-Consultants.com.

Dr. Daniel A. Schroeder is President/CEO of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC). ODC serves regional and national clients from its offices in suburban Milwaukee. Additionally, he teaches in the Organizational Behavior and Leadership (bachelor’s) and Organization Development (master’s) programs at Edgewood College (Madison, WI), programs that he founded and for which he served as Program Director.

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