Here at Accountable in Action, we sure talk a lot about women. The halls of our Orange County office (i.e. Sarah Barton’s living room) are buzzing with statistics, tales of injustice and theories on how we can change the world. But, in honor of yesterday’s Father’s Day holiday…
Let’s talk about men.
My earliest mentor was my father. Like my mentors today, he taught me to always do my best, pay it forward and pursue my truest passions in life. He was, and is, my role model.
It’s not surprising that I still pursue the guidance of mentors (as all of us should). All of my mentors are people I admire, who have similar career paths, and who regularly challenge me to do more good. Those relationships are full of heart, not obligation.
I have several informal mentors. It might be surprising coming from this feminist loudmouth, but they’re not all women. Perhaps it’s due to my dad’s early influence that I value male guidance. In reality, though, I think it’s just because I know a badass when I see one.
Therefore, my mentors are those who share my definition of success, male and female alike. Fortunately, the nature of where I work (higher education) allows for all types of coaching and mentorship. As a young employee, I am able to pursue the guidance of a male mentor freely and without question.
Unfortunately, not every work environment is as supportive of women seeking out male mentors. A 2010 study from the Center for Talent Innovation found that nearly two-thirds of men in senior positions pulled back from one-on-one contact with junior female employees because of fear of being suspected of having an affair. Meanwhile, half of junior women reported being nervous about one-on-one contact with senior men for the same reason. (Source: forbes.com)
Not to go all SherylSandbergLeanIn on you, but this is ridiculous. The fact that men cannot mentor women without the threat of people thinking they’re having an affair or some interoffice relationship is absurd. Not everyone is pulling a Pete Campbell. Men should not be afraid and women should not be nervous. We’re all people with something to give, something to teach and something to gain. I can learn just as much from a man as I can from a woman – and no sex will be involved either way.
Realistically, we cannot deny the possibility of sexual tension. So, let’s just have men continue to mentor men and women continue to mentor women. But wait, that won’t work because men like men and women like women these days, too. Blast. That sexual tension is seemingly unavoidable.
Please excuse my back-handed sarcasm; it is only to make a point. Discouraging male/female mentor relationships is an old-fashioned solution to a post-modern complexity. It is a deliberate stunt to our professional growth.
Instead of discouraging these relationships, let’s promote them. Promote mixed-gender mentorships using the foundational principle for all relationships: respect. We all have something to give and to gain. Just as we must empower men to support women, it’s important to remember that men can equally benefit from having female mentors. Gender aside, respect is a necessary component of advancement in our rapidly evolving world.
Agree? Disagree? What do your mentors look like and why did you choose them? Tell us about it.