Challenging Our Gendered Idea of Mentorship

There’s so much buzz about male allies. Conversations, studies, and presentations about mentors and sponsors are almost always about how leaders who are men can help women. These narratives are important and necessary, of course. But they also offer a narrow definition of leadership, portraying men as the heroes in a story where women need help. 

The reality is that just as women benefit from male mentors, sponsors, and allies, men also gain from the mentorship, leadership, and sponsorship of women. But stories about women leaders are scarce, and they often narrowly focus on how women help each other. Even more rare are examples of the positive impact women leaders have on the careers and business of men. This imbalance reinforces negative bias about the ability of women to lead and contributes to the scarcity of women at the top.

In fact, examples of women leaders mentoring and sponsoring men, and investing in and advancing the businesses of men, do exist.

  • Home Depot’s recently retired CFO, Carol B. Tomé, groomed her successor, Richard McPhail. 
  • Ramon Laguarta succeeded Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, citing her as his mentor.
  • In the food world, it is common to find a woman running the business of a big-name male chef. Marguerite Zabar Mariscal is the CEO of chef David Chang’s Momofuku Group, with annual revenues of $100 million.
  • Kimberly Grant is the C.E.O. of José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, which operates restaurants in eight cities.
  • Lois Freedman has been the president of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant group for more than three decades.

For businesses, economies, and people to get the demonstrated dividend that comes from gender-balanced leadership teams, we have to eliminate inaccurate, persistent perceptions about women as leaders. One way to do that is to observe and tell stories about how women leaders benefit men. As Dr. Alice Eagly, a psychology professor who studies stereotypes, said: “Stereotypes change when people get new observations. They form because of what people experience in daily life, what people see.”

In this spirit, author Rania H. Anderson shares a few of the experiences relayed by men and women who she has worked with, coached, and is connected to around the country. They vary in age, race, and career stage and work in fields as far ranging as venture capital, financial services, architecture, diplomacy and the nonprofit sector. Their stories illustrate how all around us and on a daily basis, women leaders invest in and help to advance men in their careers and businesses.

Click here to read the full article by Rania H. Anderson for Harvard Business Review.

Image source: HBR Staff/Getty Images

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