The future of mentoring is genderless

For some bizarre reason, most of my workplaces have been female dominated. From my time in the natural therapies industry, to cosmetics, to salon, to education, I have always found myself in the company of women. Even when playing Grade Cricket in Adelaide our B-Grade wicketkeeper was a female state representative – an initiative way before it’s time.

When reflecting on the senior managers I have worked under, most of were women. And, most younger colleagues I’ve supported and mentored were women. Now as an educator the stats of my mentees and participants are skewed towards the fairer sex.

It has been a great experience!  I look back on all of these experiences with fondness. More recently, I have been working with the wonderfully gritty and caring business owner of Crème De La Cakes, Ashlee Hunter. Ashlee heads up an all-girl team creating the most stunning wedding, birthday, and celebration cakes you have ever seen. Ashlee is one of many young female business leaders that have gone through my Road Mapping Mentoring Program over the last four to five years. We have had a great time working through the program, making progress with every session.

So, it was with shock that I watched the latest episode of Q&A where the Liberal Minister Karen Andrews declared,“I would discourage a male in the current environment for taking on one-on-one mentoring.” Ms Andrews said, “I think that there is a general concern from a lot of men… about how do they protect themselves from an accusation about their behaviour and their conduct. I think that is actually something men should be very conscious of.”

This was in response to the question of, “How do we encourage men to take up mentoring young women in the wake of the #metoo movement?”

When Ashlee and I caught up this week, we discussed the topic. She mentioned how much she really enjoyed mentoring from blokes and that she “responded well to them”. As for me, I guess I may be immune to gender as a factor in a mentor-mentee relationship. Earlier this week I was working with the barnstormingly brilliant Sue Anderson of Co Squared where I was the mentee. To paraphrase Ashlee’s words “I respond well too!”

I can see where Ms Andrews is coming from. In June last year a report released by the online mentoring platform, Art of Mentoring, showed that the proportion of Australian men who were uncomfortable about working alone with a woman had increased to 15 per cent from just seven per cent as a result of #MeToo.

Discouraging men from mentoring young women only amplifies this problematic trend. Ms Andrews’ view is dominated by fear. A fear that will see us regress as a society. A fear that will erode gender equality in the workplace and halt any progress we have seen in recent years.

@Brayster was a Q&A viewer that had their text displayed live during the discussion: “Oh please. Decent men have nothing to worry about as a genuine mentor”.

And neither do decent women. With such a huge wave of optimism off the back of International Women’s Day, there is a momentum we can uphold by stepping forward and doing the job at hand – developing the next generation of leaders through strong respectful relationships.

Paul Farina, Team Performance Specialist, www.paulfarina.com.au

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