By: Bianca Buliga, Content Curator
Though no two mentors are quite the same, the vast majority of entrepreneurs agree that a mentor is an irreplaceable business investment. According to a UPS Mentor Month survey published on Entrepreneur in 2015, an overwhelming 88% of small business owners surveyed considered their mentoring experience “invaluable” to their business success. Further, the same survey revealed that 70% of mentored businesses live past five years – DOUBLE the survival rate of non-mentored ventures. Considering that 49% of the 288 ventures SEED SPOT supports are run by female entrepreneurs, we thought we’d do some research on how to best mentor these ambitious women.
Recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation indicates that one-on-one mentoring is the critical empowerment tool for women in the workplace. However, this tends to get complicated in cross-gender mentorships. Fear of being even suspected of inappropriate mentorship conduct causes 64% of senior men to pull back from one-on-one contact with junior women; conversely, 50% of junior women are hesitant to seek mentorship from senior men. So, how can we maximize the information exchange between entrepreneurial men and women while ensuring the comfort of both parties?
SEED SPOT would like to suggest three direct actions that male-identifying mentors can implement TODAY to make their female-identifying mentees feel more valued:
Listen Without Fixing
Men can be more effective mentors for women if they practice listening skills with the goal of showing empathy rather than trying to quickly problem solve or fix things for her. When a woman is communicating her conflict, actively listening and responding with phrases like “I hear you” or “I understand how you feel” is essential. If she is seeking your advice, wait for her to explicitly ask you before volunteering your opinion.
Mutual respect is key – starting or growing an organization takes a significant amount of time, effort, empathy, and passion. SEED SPOT mentor Scott Kaufmann states that “a mentor shouldn’t try to ‘tell’ the mentee what to do, but rather help explore the vision and guide toward the strengths of the founder”. The most successful male mentors provide their female mentees with encouragement and the space for profound envisioning to take place.
Respect Emotional Expression
Although women make up 51% of all managers, women are oftentimes perceived to be more emotional than men. Brain scans indicate that men and women experience negative emotions quite similarly, yet emote quite differently. Cultures like the United States socialize women with more permission to cry, while men are more inclined to control or mute emotional expression.
So, what does this mean for men mentoring women? Possibilities arise for misunderstanding or mentorship incompatibility if men fail to appreciate women’s unique neurological tendency to be verbally and emotionally expressive. If a female mentee expresses frustration by crying, confident male mentors don’t run for the hills – they stock up on Kleenex and continue championing promising female entrepreneurs.
Recognize and Reward Achievement
Men are often socialized to over-estimate and over-report their achievements, while the opposite is true for women – think male hubris and female humility. A 2009 study assessing intelligence self-estimates between males and females across 12 countries found that women consistently scored themselves lower than their male counterparts.
The book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, explains that many women feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Sandberg claims that if you ask a man to explain his success, he will typically credit his own innate qualities and abilities. On the other hand, a woman will likely attribute her business’s success to external factors like her mentors, her family, or even luck.
Excellent mentors for female entrepreneurs persistently affirm that they belong (particularly in male-centric industries), and coach them to take full ownership of their hard work and accomplishments. More confident female entrepreneurs will not only enjoy more venture growth and networking possibilities, but an overall higher sense of self-worth in her personal life.
SEED SPOT mentor, Scott Kaufmann reflects that “the opportunities and challenges associated with starting a new venture span gender… all founders must rise to their best to build a successful organization”. Whether budding entrepreneurs are male or female, everyone brings a unique skill set that when harnessed properly, has the power to propel seed-stage ventures to success. The most adept mentors simply know how to encourage the entrepreneur, and how to capitalize on their operational, relationship-based, or strategic strengths for maximum community impact.
To end with some advice from a valuable SEED SPOT mentor, Terry Mullane, “it is critical to respect each other and value each other’s knowledge and skills”. When we work together, the possibilities are endless.
So on that note, come on ladies. DREAM BIG.
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