Inappropriate behavior toward women in the workplace has sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement exploded on social media, celebrities were embroiled in allegations of sexual misconduct, employers were sued and employees dismissed.
While this tidal wave of public attention has generated some positive change, business leaders and work-culture observers wonder how the fallout will affect male-female working relationships down the road, such as within the mentoring dynamic.
Peter J. Strauss, a business owner and attorney, thinks it’s time to turn the conversation positive and view how male-female mentoring has successfully impacted careers and companies. This time of raised awareness, he says, provides the chance to improve mentoring and make it even more meaningful.
“As a business owner, I would like to encourage my peers to change the tone of this conversation and focus on the many successful male-female work relationships we have each seen, fostered and benefited from,” says Strauss, a captive insurance manager and author of The Business Owner’s Definitive Guide to Captive Insurance Companies. “A workplace is super-charged by having a mix of well-mentored men and women.
“At a time when men might be pulling away from mentoring to avoid any hint of impropriety with a female colleague, we need more men to mentor women because they’ll be helping to positively change the workplace.”
Strauss offers four tips to male business leaders when mentoring women:
• Focus on professional progress. Rules for mentoring should be the same for a woman mentoring a man or a man mentoring a woman. “What’s the mentor or mentee’s motivation for entering into this mentoring relationship?” asks Strauss. “You focus on skills, talents, goals and competencies. Feedback is constructive. You keep it real by not veering off the track of professional growth.”
• Think of mutual growth. Well-planned and executed mentoring is a win-win for the mentee and mentor. “The mentor can grow substantially from the relationship as well,” Strauss says. “Focus on developing the women and men on your teams through impactful mentoring that elevates both the mentor and the mentee. As a male business owner, I owe a tremendous amount of my own success to the incredible mentorship of my female colleagues. Male business owners need to seek out their female mentors as they add a different dimension to how we plan, execute and build our businesses.”
• Ask if you’re unsure. Colleagues can help you understand what is considered inappropriate behavior and what is acceptable. “Something that was a compliment years ago might be considered an inappropriate comment today,” Strauss says.
• Practice common courtesy, respect. “Treat a female colleague as you would any other colleague,” Strauss says. “Men should take the extra step of educating themselves on the definition of sexual harassment and what it means to women in a professional setting. Be a good listener and exhibit common courtesy, as you would show any person.”
“Male business leaders have a great opportunity here to be great role models, impactful mentors and help women continue to diversify the talent of their companies,” Strauss says.