6 Tips to Start a Women’s Mentorship Program in Your Workplace
82% of women say it’s important to have female mentors, but only 13% say their primary female mentor is in their current workplace – it’s time to change that!
A lot has changed in the last few years, and today’s employees expect their job to provide more than just a paycheck. As a start, they want a healthy work/life balance, benefits beyond basic insurance, and the opportunity for career growth.
This is particularly true for women in the workforce. While the state of women in the workplace now is much better than that of ten or twenty years ago, there are still evident disparities between their male colleagues.
One of your company’s best ways to help balance the scales is by creating a women’s mentorship program.
The Importance of Mentorship in the Workplace
The idea of mentorship isn’t a new concept. However, the number of businesses that have established formal mentorship programs is still relatively low.
Mentorship programs benefit every level of your business.
It’s important for new hires to find more veteran employees to share their knowledge of the position, the company, and the industry. Additionally, a mentor may serve as inspiration for a job title or career path the mentee hopes to reach in the future.
But mentorship doesn’t just help those in the early stages of their careers. Mentors for more veteran employees may help them make connections with senior leadership or even help build their professional network beyond the walls of their current employer.
Mentorship Challenges for Women in the Workplace
Mentorship is most effective when the mentor and mentee share similar lived experiences. This means it’s essential for women to have mentors who are women.
In January 2022, SurePayroll surveyed 2,000 American employed women. 82% say it’s important to have female mentors.
And now we have a problem because while women make up 47% of entry-level positions, they only make up 24% at the corporate level. It can become increasingly difficult to find women mentors to support the number of mentees.
For instance, in that same SurePayroll January 2022 survey, only 13% cited their primary female mentor as being from their current workplace.
6 Tips for Starting a Women’s Mentorship Program
It can be challenging for mentees and mentors to connect on their own. Not only is it difficult to know who’s open to a mentoring partnership, but approaching the topic can be awkward and uncomfortable. Establishing a formal coaching program relieves a lot of this pressure.
If you want to get a women’s mentorship program up and running at your workplace, here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Find Potential Mentors and Mentees
While we hope everyone wants to participate in your program, this should not be a requirement. No one should feel pressured to join.
To have a mentorship program, you need mentors and mentees. Announce the start of your future program and include a simple survey asking users if they would be interested in being a mentor, a mentee, or both.
Many people feel they need a specific level of expertise to mentor, while others may feel they’re too senior to be considered mentees. Everyone brings value in one area or another.
2. Everyone Is Welcome
You don’t have to identify as a woman to be concerned with women’s issues. When you announce your program, be sure to include everyone at your company.
Be upfront with your expectations for those interested but bring different learned experiences. While members should be encouraged to share, listening is more important. After all, if you want to change how your company – and ultimately society – treats women in the workplace, these experiences cannot be kept secret.
3. Go Big Before You Go Small
When you picture a mentorship program, most imagine two people – a mentor and mentee – sitting down to discuss their experiences. But not everyone at your company will be ready for this level of commitment and intimacy on day one.
Instead, start your women’s mentorship program with group sessions. Ask for and directly reach out to people you think would have an impactful story to tell. This story could be sharing the challenges they faced moving up the corporate ladder, tips for handling male-dominated meetings, or even how they balance being a mom and a full-time employee.
These group mentor sessions are great for spurring conversations and helping members realize they’re not alone in many of their experiences.
4. Define Your Program’s Goals
Setting goals is critical once you’ve decided to start your mentorship program. Think through what changes are possible at your company and create ambitious but attainable goals. Choose goals to set your program up for success.
Here are just a few examples of goals you might set for your program.
- All interested mentees are connected with a mentor
- Create a leadership program to help aspiring employees
- Partner with HR to look at limiting bias in the current hiring process
- Petition leadership to evaluate and compare employee salaries based on gender and position
- Establish a safe place where employees can share their concerns
Don’t bite off more than you can chew when you’re getting started. It can be tempting to try and accomplish everything. Be realistic. Pick just one or two primary goals – you can always add more once you achieve those!
5. Match Mentors With Mentees
There can be many different goals people want to achieve when starting a mentoring relationship. Survey your participants on the topics or fields that interest them. Then, pair mentors and mentees with matching goals.
While this is a women’s workplace mentorship program, that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive to only women’s workplace issues. Here are a few topic ideas you could offer which may appeal to your members.
- Career growth and advancement
- Specific skills to develop
- Work/life balance
- Communicating with leadership
- Tips for managing others
6. Evaluate the Impact of Your Program
Establishing a program is just the first step. You also need to make sure it’s making the impact you hoped it would.
After the first few sessions or meetings with your mentorship group, privately survey members. Among other things, be sure to ask if they appreciate the program, what ideas they would like to see implemented, and suggestions for upcoming topics or discussions.
Overcoming Challenges to Starting a Mentorship Program
The desire to start a mentorship program – whether aimed at a specific group or for anyone – doesn’t mean it will automatically succeed. Here are a few top challenges you may need to overcome as you get started.
How do you create a mentorship program at a small company?
A mentorship program doesn’t need a ton of people to succeed. Whether you’re working at a company of 5 or 500, you have options. If your company is especially small and you feel there’s not enough interest at various levels, reach out to other small companies to create a joint mentorship program.
Nothing says a mentorship group has to meet in person. Host your meetings virtually to expand your network. Combining members across many small companies may help you see what commonalities you all share while also providing insight into what’s working in other companies at a similar size.
What if leadership isn’t receptive to your mentorship program?
It’s always tricky to enact change when leadership isn’t receptive. However, it doesn’t mean that change is impossible. Sit down with management to understand their hesitation.
If they’re worried about cost, reassure them the program doesn’t need a budget (but don’t turn it down if they offer!) If they’re concerned about time away from work, consider setting up your meetings as lunch-and-learns that take place during unpaid time. You know this program is essential, so be receptive to making adjustments while holding your ground about how this will positively impact employees and the business.
How do we make this a safe place for sharing?
This can be tricky, mainly if some negative situations people want to discuss involve management or others within the mentorship group. To combat this, give people the chance to share an experience anonymously.
Using a tool like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, create a place for people to share their stories or suggestions to the group leaders without providing a name. Another option is to pick one or two people in the group that others can reach out to who will share these experiences on behalf of others privately.
Additionally, these meetings should be closed to outside eyes. If hosting in person, try to have your meetings in a private room with closed doors. If you’re hosting a virtual meeting, do not record it to share with others.
A Good Mentorship Program Can Enact Real Change
While there can be challenges to getting started, a good mentorship program positively impacts everyone involved. You might not see things change the next day or the next month, but small changes become big changes. And now is the perfect time to get started.
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