Mentoring and Women's Empowerment

When I recall myself in the first steps of my career, I used to call  “teachers” or “guardian angels”, those who played the role of a mentor to me. 

At that time I had no idea that there was a name for this practice. Today mentoring is widely known as a way to build one’s career on solid grounds and, especially for women, a way to further promote women’s empowerment. 

Which are the key points that render mentoring so important, especially for women and especially nowadays?

What is the current framework

To begin with, let’s first take a look at what’s the current situation in various work or business environments. 

Despite the fact that women constitute almost half of the workforce today, we don’t find the same analogy in respective leadership roles. Which means, that, while women get educated, gain skills and enter the labor market, for some reason, they tend to disappear after a certain hierarchical level and in high-level leadership positions we find mostly men.  

It is also observed that there are different conditions for women in the labor market. Men and women don’t usually play with the same rules. There are numerous, both evident and veiled, practices of discrimination against women professionals. 

Some of them are related to behaviours other with processes. This could be about gender stereotypes, prejudices and behaviours, or the creation of networking clubs for men, from which women are excluded. More information can be found in the research held by and McKinsey (Women In the Workplace Report).

If, to all these, we add the difficulty to obtain resources either this is about financing (resulting from the restricted access to funds) or time (steming from women’s social role, that generates increased family obligations), it is easily understood why mentoring can have such a transformative impact on any phase a woman’s career may be.

How is mentoring contributing to women’s empowerment on an individual level:

Improves women’s ability to better promote themselves and their achievements

Recently at the #IamRemarkable workshop in Athens (co-organized by Google and Greek National Documentation Centre) women from different areas and in different stages in our careers, we had the opportunity to put under the microscope a phenomenon, observed at women professionals. It is called feminine modesty. It is about the modesty, that especially women professionals are expected to demonstrate, so that they will not be considered arrogant, aggressive, feisty or whichever subject is attributed from time to time to women, who stand for their achievements and successes in an assertive way. 

A mentor, particularly a female mentor, will work with a woman professional on that, showing her two things. One is that it is appropriate and absolutely necessary for her career’s advancement to talk about her work and her professional ambitions. The second is the way to do it.

Builds women a professional network

A network of connections is crucial for any professional, for women professionals or entrepreneurs especially. The cooperation they will develop with their mentor will offer them the opportunity to expand their network, as well as to make themselves “visible” in the business or market field they want to grow.

Keeps women focused on their goals

Due to the multiple roles and responsibilities women undertake in their life, besides work, they are more likely to set a professional target and then neglect it. Women are more likely to defer their focus and energy, something we saw happening intensely during the Covid-19 quarantine period. Women professionals, who stayed at home with the rest of the family, put their professional targets in the background or postponed them ad infinitum. 

In cases like these, the mentor can act as a “reminder“. Under their guidance, they will remind the mentee of her vision and mission, while at the same time keep her active towards the direction she set when she started. 

How is mentoring contributing to women’s empowerment on a social level:

Is mentoring actually contributing to women’s empowerment? How is a practice that benefits the individual, having an impact on a social level? A lot could be said about the leverage of mentoring on women’s leadership and empowerment. Here are some of the most substantial ones:

Creates more opportunities for women

This works cumulatively and can have an amazing impact. Many women leave an organisation or settle with less, because they feel that they have no access to the same opportunities or tools to advance their careers. Being involved into a mentoring relationship, women-mentees create certainly more opportunities to further develop their presence in their field or market. 

Not all women will move into high-level positions, but several will do and in due course they will take their own mentees and the cycle will continue and expand. Taking an overall look, mentoring can create the circumstances, so that eventually even more women gain access to professional and business opportunities.

Opens the way to leadership roles

Inextricably linked to the previous point, mentoring is decisive for the progress and success of young women professionals. Mentors offer valuable knowledge on how the market runs. On what is leadership and how they can lead successfully. Encourage them to search for opportunities and show them  the tools to deploy them. Will tell them when they are ready to take the next step forward and, even more importantly, how to do it assertively. 

What is the outcome of all these? More women see themselves in high leadership positions, which also grows exponentially….more women in high level positions, means that more women identify with them. They become the icebreakers and open the way to the top. We could say that mentoring is a very modern and dynamic way to close the gender gap in leadership. 

Paves the way of entrepreneurship to more women

Modelling is a learning process. Women, who take control of their financial condition and future, not only set themselves as role models for the others, but by becoming mentors, can actually smooth the path of entrepreneurship for so many other women.

Contributes to the discussion about equality and inclusivity in the work place

Probably this is an indirect benefit deriving from mentoring. However it is sufficient enough to make us see the big picture. The more women in labour market, and especially in leadership roles, the better will their needs be recognised, expressed and heard.  The better their needs are recognised, expressed and heard, the more hospitable and inclusive for everyone the work environments will become. 

Concluding, participating in mentoring relationships either as mentors or as mentees can be a priceless practice for both sides. Not only does it contribute to women’s empowerment, but to the development of more compassionate and empathetic teams and organisations, as well.