This isn’t just bad news for women looking to rise to the upper ranks of their industries, but companies too, since there are well-documented business benefits to having more women in leadership positions.
Research from the Peterson Institute, for example, found that more women in the C-suite is associated with increased profitability, and that having at least 30% women in corporate leadership positions boosts net profit margin by 6%. In another study by Bain & Company, a commitment to gender equality was found to fuel employee engagement and higher corporate growth rates.
In support of annual Women’s Equality Day, here are some of the ways female-to-female mentorships help women advance in business.
Mentoring builds confidence
It’s not that women aren’t as career-driven as men – in fact, in the early days, they are slightly more so. According to the Bain & Company study, 43% of women aspire to top management when they are in the first two years of their position, compared with 34% of men. As they gain experience, however, women’s aspiration levels drop by nearly 60% and their confidence falls by half, while for men, both remain about the same.
Janelle Bostock, CEO of Women’s Network Australia (WNA), has made it her business to create safe, inclusive spaces “to educate, guide and support women in business”, and has benefited enormously from the mentorship of two women throughout her career.
Bostock believes that women mentoring other women plays a key role in instilling the confidence needed to rise through the ranks. Plus, sharing learnings across generations and business units, or just getting another point of view, not only benefits the mentee, but the mentor too.
“It’s a great way of putting things in a different perspective, and everyone needs someone to bounce ideas off,” Bostock says. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you can always learn and grow.”
It helps women get through different career life cycles
“One of my mentors during my early 20s was great female leader, and in turn I know that she had a female leader mentoring her too. But we’re not feminists here – she was a family person. She even worked remotely from home, and she encouraged me to do that too,” Bostock recalls.
Family is one of the unique barriers to women experiencing professional success. There are the well-documented struggles of balancing work with family demands, but then there’s the more challenging issue of maternal wall bias – essentially, the perception that working mothers are less competent and less committed to their jobs. Female mentors, especially those who have family commitments themselves, can help other women scale the barrier and continue on to achieve career goals.
“Women mentors help educate, guide and support other women in business, but at the same time, they can help workplaces realise it’s ok if female employees have families,” says Bostock. “Mentorship can help women achieve a work-life balance, and the flexibility to work remotely if need be. You’ll often find (women employees) give the extra mile if the boss is sympathetic or empathetic to having those family commitments honored.”
It opens the door to networking opportunities
Women mentoring other women in business also creates more growth opportunities in general. Women who have achieved managerial or executive success through mentorship are more likely to take on mentees of their own, resulting in a powerful cumulative effect as they help each other grow, collaborate and connect with other professionals.
“The Springboard platform is fantastic for women who are in their young 20s, or don’t have that confidence in themselves to approach a colleague in search of mentorship,” Bostock says. “It’s a great personal and professional development and growth framework that enables women to grow with, and learn from each other.”
It creates better access to leadership positions
Women are generally less likely to self-advocate, and are therefore more likely to be passed over for promotion. Because female mentors have unique insight into the practical and emotional challenges women face in the workplace, they can push mentees to seek advancement, and give them the tools and encouragement to navigate these obstacles and achieve their ambitions.
And while female-to-female mentorship has historically been rarer than male-to-male – mainly because there weren’t as many women as men in leadership positions –,Bostock believes this is starting to change.
“I find the majority of my members, especially in the senior business leader positions, feel strongly about giving back to their profession and the business community,” she says.
“We’re certainly becoming more aware and more vocal, and we want to help each other, that’s ingrained in us. It’s just natural that we want to try to offer support, to guide and nurture.”
About Janelle Bostock
Janelle is a leading Australian expert in connecting women in business to grow, succeed and collaborate with other like-minded business women. Her career spans over 25 years working in the private and public sector, not for profit organisations and now, she runs her own successful businesses, Women’s Network Australia (WNA). Passionate about making connections and providing opportunities for others, Janelle has held executive positions on the National Board of the Australian Institute of Office Professionals Committee of Management.