Confident Leader

Why women’s mentoring programs are still relevant

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There has been a considerable shift in the focus on mentoring, and especially on mentoring for women. And there have also been questions raised – by men – about why women should have specialised mentoring programs.

When the National Australia Bank/ Macquarie Applied Finance Centre Women’s Mentoring Program piloted in 2013, it received amazing feedback. Women felt like they finally had a program dedicated to them, to nurture them and guide them through the world of finance.

However, two years later, the initial excitement has died down. Increasingly, the feedback I get is from men feeling left out because of the fact the program is for women, and women only. Why exclude men? Why discriminate based on gender? Isn’t this meant to be the twenty-first century, where ability trumps all?

As such, more men and women alike are dismissing the merits of women’s mentoring programs. There is a question on everybody’s minds, and that question is: are women’s mentoring programs even relevant anymore, or are we just pandering to old notions of inequality?

Well, to put it simply, they’re not.

Women’s mentoring programs are more relevant than ever—and here are three reasons why.

  1. The pay gap between Australian men and women in 2015 is 18.8 per cent—an all time high.
  2. There are nine times as many men in directorial positions than there are women.
  3. And yet, there are still less mentoring programs for women than there are for men.

The idea that we no longer need women’s mentoring programs is a dangerous misconception that could see the gender gap widen into a gaping chasm.

Not only do mentoring programs provide an opportunity for bright young women to be nurtured by other women who have ‘made it’, they also give the chance for these amazing women to develop and even out the gender disparity in directorial roles.

Visibility isn’t enough—the real goal is to allow women to have an equal footing in the industry, without being discriminated against because of their gender.

“Access to senior women is the key,” NAB/MAFC 2015 Women’s Mentoring Program mentor Leanne Gordon says. “You often hear people say you can’t be what you can’t see.  Mentoring programs provide more than just being able to ‘see’ someone – it provides the opportunity to also understand and connect.”

Mentoring programs for women also provide young women a chance to develop their career and gives them unprecedented opportunities.

Take 2015 NAB Mentoring Program Mentee Joyce Phan. Born as the eldest daughter of immigrant parents who escaped from post-war Vietnam, having the opportunity to be taken under the wing of a senior-level woman in the industry has opened doors she’s never imagined.

“As mentees navigate their careers, they may face new challenges and uncertainties,” Joyce says. “We have a lot to gain from talking to an experienced mentor who has been through it before.”

“Mentors also get the opportunity to share their invaluable experiences and unique insights with the next generation of women.”

Through mentoring, women are able to learn from women who have successfully made their way to the top of their field, leading to a more even balance between men and women in high-level roles. This, in turn, reduces the gender gap between men and women in high-level positions, especially in male-dominated fields like business and finance.

“I think this type of formal mentoring program is a positive step towards closing this gap,” mentee Heidi Thomson says.

Most women’s mentoring programs are created to help women gain a greater understanding of their capabilities and how their skills can be utilised to help further their career within their industry. Likewise, the NAB/MAFC program aims to inspire, motivate and educate women about the opportunities available for employment and leadership in the banking and finance industry.

“Australia has a relatively low female workforce participation rate,” mentor Snehal Bhide says. “Mentoring programs help women refocus their professional commitment towards their careers and reposition their personal and professional life.”

As it currently stands, only 12.3 per cent of directors at ASX 200 companies were women, according to a government survey. The need to promote women to a position of leadership in the banking and finance industry has never been more prevalent.

“It is programs like these that enable Australia to maximise the full potential of women by empowering them, guiding them, instilling self-belief and self-confidence,” Snehal says.

And this is why women’s mentoring programs were started in the first place. This is why women’s mentoring programs are so relevant and important.

Given the right support, women can be powerful leaders in any industry, but it will take more than promises and pledges to change the Australian psyche. We need to take action, and put words where our mouths are.

We have to encourage women’s mentoring programs to better our economy and our country.

About Professor Kevin Jameson

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