Subtitle: Love Or Fear, You Choose

Women in business need feedback to develop and advance in their career. They need mentorship and guidance, especially from men. 

Men have been dealing in the space of working with other men far longer than women, and there are more of them at higher levels. As a result, they can more quickly see behaviors that are off-putting and help to strategize a way to keep true to oneself while advancing. 

In the short-term, women need to operate in a world that remains dominated by men’s rules. Consequently, they need to understand the views that got to those often-unspoken rules. In the long run, the rules need to change.  

Also, and obviously, men need women just as much, but that’s not the point of this post. 

When I read the following comment made by an executive at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in early 2019, it was concerning.

Here’s the direct comment: “I now think twice about spending one-on-one time with a young female colleague.”

His comment left me wondering if most men in business had a similar perspective. Would they hesitate to mentor women more now?

Are Men More Afraid To Mentor Women Now?

Curious, I started asking men in leadership about their experience mentoring women before and after the #MeToo movement. I wanted to know if anything had changed in their approach to mentoring women. And, if so, what?

One of my favorite responses came from Dr. Kevin Frick, Vice Dean for Education of the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins. Rather then try explain his answer, I asked him to write a guest blog post for me about his experience mentoring women.

Enjoy!  

Reflect On Powerful Virtues Women Exhibit

A decade after being paired with my first female mentee (prior to the #MeToo movement) I am still enjoying the same approach to mentoring—respect and appreciation for learning about the human experience.

By structuring my mentoring to focus on and reflect the powerful virtues women exhibit, I can better help those I mentor to see and own their greatness. Approaching mentoring from that perspective, gender doesn’t matter.   

Since 2008, I’ve encountered many constructed and organic chances to mentor women. Each time, I have a choice: lean in or avoid them in a social climate that includes the #MeToo movement. I have consistently chosen to lean in as part of a life devoted to lifting others’ human experiences. 

My Philosophy

When I began mentoring, I made five clear decisions that continue to make all the difference when it comes “Me Too” movement and mentoring women.

First, I was not seeking only to mentor “mini-me’s.”  My goal was to help mentees achieve their highest goals as their authentic selves and join their journeys as they follow evolving dreams on personal trajectories.  

Second, my role as a mentor is to explore life and opportunities with mentees and to spend more time listening than talking. Careful, attentive listening provides a clear sense of presence for a mentee to help her draw conclusions. I speak and write to share experiences to help generate ideas without reducing a mentee’s agency by telling her what to do.  

Third, humility translates into wanting to learn from mentees at least as much as they learn from me and acknowledging I don’t always have answers.  The result can involve long conversations about life in general and not simply career advancement; that way, I appreciate better the mentee’s holistic context and offer more informed advice.  

Fourth, mentoring is a process building slowly toward a long-term goal including a balanced life. 

Finally, mentoring women is a part of celebrating women’s stories and successes that I make an integral part of my everyday life.    

The Opportunities

My philosophy has proven compatible with mentoring women and contributes to my choice to lean in, step up, and support.  Stepping up sometimes means volunteering for constructed mentoring relationships. Other relationships develop organically, and several mentees have provided connections to other women with whom I enter into mentoring relationships.

Examples

My longest mentoring relationship began with several email exchanges before an in-person meeting. Our first conversation involved finding commonalities and sharing passions. For a decade, I’ve been present in her journey through changes in goals, health issues, relationship struggles, completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, getting her career started, finding a fulfilling job, promotions, and supporting her application for a Fulbright.

Over the years, we’ve shared many long conversation about career and life wherever we happen to cross paths. We’ve shared the stage discussing mentoring and the impact of mentoring where she put into words what she’d felt from our first in-person meeting.  I try make sure all women I mentor feel “validated and better prepared to embrace the impending…phases of…life.” She taught me the importance of keeping creativity as a part of what my identity. She has included music and dance as part of her life throughout the decade I’ve known her. 

Another mentee has met me to run each week for more than seven years. I’ve been present in her journey through finishing undergraduate studies, getting into law school, passing the bar, and starting a career as an attorney. I cannot mentor her on the law, but I can observe and encourage the impact she makes and, I’ve written nominations for awards she’s received. She shared the term “sunshine character” with me as a way to summarize a life of trying to light others’ lives—a purpose we share. 

I also sometimes use creative writing in my mentoring; one mentee taught me a phrase about parents giving roots and wings. I wrote a poem with a simple illustration based on this phrase that I shared with her as she moved from Baltimore. 

Conclusion

I hope readers see my story as a demonstration of the continuing opportunities for successful mentoring between men and women: humble listening; focus on life balance in the long-term; a laser focus on recognizing commonalities, nurturing, cherishing, loving, and lifting others’ authentic human experiences.

Thank You for such an excellent blog post, Kevin!

Here’s to Your Greatness, 

Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders have difficult conversations for more than 15 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com