Women climbing the corporate ladder need good mentorship – from other women

“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.” – J Loren Norris 

Growing up in the townships of Mamelodi and Eersterust, I’d wondered why there was a shortage of women mentors. There were always men who one could tap into for guidance and direction. 

My uncle was one of those men. He was an educator and strongly believed in mentoring me and other children in the neighbourhood to ensure that we were exposed to opportunities that otherwise we would not have been aware of. This was to help us look at life from different perspectives and to think about things differently.   

From my experience it has always been the men who make the most noise and the ones who had the best opportunities. A case in point was my first two jobs; both were organisations founded and run by men, and the only mentorship I had was through the men in the organisation. 

When I asked to be mentored by a woman, I was told by the women themselves that they didn’t have time because they were too busy and had other responsibilities outside of work.

So my question is: are women meant to learn from men? Is it because men are believed to be superior to women or is it that they have less responsibilities when it comes to the day-to-day running of their lives? Is it that women are seen as procreators and in the home? 

I want to challenge the notion that women aren’t equipped to be great mentors. 

I came across an article by the South African College of Applied Psychology that stated that “female mentors appear to be better role models, but male mentors may be better at leading the way to the top of the corporate ladder”. The key takeaways from this article can be summarised as follows:

For employees aspiring to get corner office jobs, men, who still occupy more of these positions than women, can open the right doors.

Having “been in the trenches themselves”, female mentors may have a better understanding of the issues faced by other women in a male-dominated workplace.

Where men tend to be more data-driven, process-oriented, and stress tolerant, women draw on both logic and emotional intelligence when making decisions.

Ultimately, the choice of a male or female mentor should be based on your own developmental needs at that particular point in your life and career.

So, is it because men are further along in their careers because of circumstance and are better equipped to mentor others as opposed to women? Or is it because women feel threatened by other women, or are we too emotional? 

It is no secret that women are under-represented in high level positions and still have a long way to go to being more visible in leadership positions. My belief is that no matter what position you hold, you should be able to mentor. 

A great deal more young women entering the workplace in today’s world are focusing on climbing the corporate ladder and, in some instances, don’t have children so that they can further their careers. Does this also contribute to older women feeling threatened and opting to not take on mentorship roles? Would this inadvertently mean that these young women would want to spend more time learning from their mentors, while older women mentors would not be inclined to give them the extra time? 

How do we, as older women, enable mentoring for younger women? This could be done by simply putting out a call for people looking for mentorship opportunities in areas they want to grow into in their careers in the organisations they work for. This should align with the learning and development goals for the team or organisation. This is a method of actively promoting the development of every employee.

Some of the mentorship programmes I looked into offered networking opportunities as opposed to direct mentorship, and this could be highlighting the fact that there is a shortage of formal mentorship programmes. 

I want to take on the role of mentor because I believe in making a difference and imparting knowledge. I’d like to impart knowledge based on my learnings and experience with the hope of ensuring that the next generation of women are better equipped than I was to handle struggles in the workplace and are able to speak up for themselves without being afraid of being sidelined or passed over for opportunities they so rightly deserve.

How do we as women start bringing along other women on this journey? By being kind. To encourage self-confidence and a positive attitude that will encourage women in the workplace to grow in their jobs and continue moving forward. 

I challenge all women in leadership positions to be open and empathetic to the difficulties facing young women in the workplace.  

Oprah Winfrey said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” This quote resonates with me because there was a time in my life when I had lost all hope and it took a mentor to make me realise that it was fear stopping me from reaching my dreams. 

Nosipho Ginindza is the managing director of Sandton-based marketing agency SoulProviders Collective.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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