I often wonder why when we talk of mentoring my first thought goes to men or male mentors. Very rarely do I talk or even think about female mentors. Interestingly, this predisposition applies to most men and maybe even women. When the subject of mentoring comes up especially as it relates to a mentors gender, we most often imagine a HE. Even where such relationships do exist i.e. female mentor to male mentee, it is not usually recognised and acknowledged as such.
What could be the reason for this? Is it due to gender inequality or the age old perception of women as being the weaker sex?
I’m not writing to question whether women can be good mentors generally. That question, I believe, was well answered in the article Male vs. Female Mentors by Connie Glaser. I am writing – as the topic suggests – on the question of whether females in any leadership capacity can effectively mentor males. Before I delve further, it would be worthy to define in lay man’s terms who a mentor is and what mentoring is all about.
A mentor must be experienced in at least one area of life, mature, approachable, patient, and have a sincere interest in grooming anyone (approved by the mentor) that has shown a keen interest in learning. Notice I didn’t use the word ‘teaching anyone’ because I’ve found that most times mentors are busy people. They don’t always have the time to spend exclusively with their mentees, sharing their knowledge and experiences, but they usually provide an open atmosphere for you to learn from them. They can give you access to their work, their time, their resources, their social or business networks, and sometimes even their personal lives. This level of access makes it possible for the mentee to learn proactively without having to be spoon fed.
A mentor doesn’t have to know everything and of course most don’t, but they do have to be knowledgeable and experienced in the area that made them attractive to the mentee in the first place. It is possible that a mentee may even have some skills that the mentor lacks but this should in no way hamper the relationship. Instead, it should strengthen it. Mentoring is about bringing out the best in people thereby enabling them reach their full potential and this can happen for a mentor as well even if not obviously. There’s no rule that says learning must be a one way street.
One may then ask, can’t women provide the kind of mentoring mentioned in the paragraphs above?
I’d say a big yes! But then, mentoring a man is another issue. A male mentor would most times display strength, manliness, and leadership and these traits would be very attractive to most male mentees. A female mentor on the other hand could at her unguarded moment experience sudden unexplainable mood swings, become unnecessarily emotional and generally act like a woman (for lack of better specific examples), in the presence of her mentee. Such behaviour could immediately have a negative impact on a man because most men see this as a weakness.
In times past as well as in our present day women have ruled nations of the world, no doubt, and even less notable women hold influential positions in the midst of their male counterparts, but I can’t say if they inspire enough confidence in the minds of the younger male folk who should see them as potential mentors, as much as a man would do in a similar position.
For a male mentee considering a female mentor, it is important that he defines from the start exactly what aspect of the mentors life he would like to learn from, so he doesn’t get discouraged or confused about her suitability as a mentor… (I’ll end this thought here)
There aren’t many examples I can find to prove that women have mentored men neither is it common for a man to choose a female as a mentor when there are so many men he can choose from; what I can confidently say is that women have shown exceptional leadership in many male dominated areas of life and mentoring men should be a one of those areas.
In all honesty, this topic turned out to be a lot deeper than I had imagined and I admit that discussing it can create some controversy… I’ve had to review it several times too… Well, I leave the rest to my readers to decide… Nuff said.