When Men Mentor Women

David Smith, associate professor of sociology at the U.S. Naval War College, and Brad Johnson, professor of psychology at the United States Naval Academy, argue that it is vital for more men to mentor women in the workplace. In the post-#MeToo world, some men have shied away from cross-gender relationships at work. But Smith and Johnson say these relationships offer big gains to mentees, mentors, and organizations. They offer their advice on how men can be thoughtful allies to the women they work with. They are the authors of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women.


SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review, I’m Sarah Green Carmichael.

Over the past year, the MeToo movement has cost powerful men their jobs in industries like media, entertainment, and politics. Now, we’re starting to see a backlash against that movement, especially in male-dominated industries.

Our guests today have both worked in a very male-dominated industry – the military.

DAVID SMITH: Our own experiences came into play here in watching how women, in particular in the military, experienced the integration and certainly some of the inequities that go on in their own lives and careers. And one of the things that stuck out to us – and we find it as well in lots of organizations today across our society – is that there are lots of structural things put in place when it comes to gender in the workplace, but often we don’t talk to men about how those relationships should be managed, what they should look like. And we felt that it was really important that we write something to engage men in particular about what this should look like and how we can do this. That gender inequities are not a women’s issue; that this is something that really we reframe as a leadership issue.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That’s David Smith. He’s an associate professor of sociology at the U.S. Naval War College. We’re also joined by Brad Johnson, a professor of psychology at the United States Naval Academy.

They are the authors of the book “Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women.”

Brad and Dave, thank you for joining us.

BRAD JOHNSON: Thanks Sarah, good to be here.

DAVID SMITH: Thanks for having us here.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I have heard sort of comments from friends of mine who work in male-dominated industries that at their organizations, there is a real drive to sort of quietly have more women just mentor women – like, let’s not make the guys do this. Let’s just have all the women kind of report to other women or be mentored by other women. Why does that not work? Why is it so important to have men mentoring women?

DAVID SMITH: Well, part of it’s just a plain numbers game and certainly as you find more traditionally male-dominated organizations and professions [and] industries out there today, the numbers just don’t support that. And in places like the military and tech and STEM and finance, you’re going to find there just aren’t as many women around, especially senior women – as you go up in the ranks – to mentor the junior women coming in.

The other, I think more obvious answer as well is that men tend to be the stakeholders – the power holders – in the organizations because they’re in the positions of leadership where they can make a difference. And so having women, again, there may be enough women to mentor other women there, but they may not be in the same positions of power to offer the same opportunities that these other men can do.

BRAD JOHNSON: Yeah. And I would also just add that guys need to be aware that when women are mentored by men – especially in traditionally male organizations – they tend to make more money; they get more promotions; they have clearly tangible career outcomes that are often better. And is this because guys are better mentors? No. It’s just simply as Dave said, because they have different kinds of positions and more power.

I also just want to note that when a guy stands up and publicly promotes and sponsors a woman, we find research showing that his end-of-year evaluations actually go up. When a woman is a public sponsor for a junior woman, her evals are more likely to suffer. You know, she’s viewed as showing favoritism; he’s viewed as a champion for diversity. So there’s even some inequity there, but all the more reason men have got to be willing to engage here.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That kind of statistic really makes my head explode, yeah. So let’s shift gears now – maybe talk a little bit about how men can do this. How can they do a good job? What are some of the constructive steps that men can take to start being better mentors to women?

DAVID SMITH: You know we had the great opportunity when we wrote “Athena Rising” to interview successful, powerful women across every industry and profession. And the number one skill that every woman mentioned was that their male mentors were great listeners. We delved down a little deeper into that, “What do you mean by they’re great listeners?” Well, they listen with the intent to learn, like they have something to learn from me, that they don’t have all the answers, that they’re not making assumptions that because I’m a woman I must need, want… whatever. Fill in the blank there for them. Listening to understand, right? Listening with a purpose as opposed to thinking about what it is I’m going to tell you next.

BRAD JOHNSON: A couple others that really stood out. The whole issue of affirmation: That, you know, in many environments especially that are mostly male-centric, women get messages that they don’t really fit, they don’t belong; that they’re unicorns. And try and counteract it, you know, say, affirming things. Say, “You know, man, we were so smart to hire you.” Or, “That was terrific what you said in the meeting.”

I just need to go out of the way to make sure that I’m pushing back on that imposter messaging she’s getting. And then there’s been a lot of discussion in the literature this last year about the fact that women might get, you know, mentoring, but they don’t get enough sponsorship. And so part of the messaging we got from the women we interviewed was, hey, if you really want to mentor me, you need to be my networker. You need to open doors. You need to introduce me to people.

One of the people that shared a terrific story about this, when we interviewed her was Sheryl Sandberg and she said my first mentor out of college was Secretary of the Treasury, and everywhere we went he would introduce me to people on the international scale and say, “This is Sheryl Sandberg. She’s a rock star. She was number one in economics at Harvard. I couldn’t do this without her.” And after the third or fourth time, Cheryl pulled him aside and said, “Hey, Larry stop. That’s embarrassing.” And he said, “Sheryl, this is how it begins. This is sponsorship. This is how things take off for you and you need to become more comfortable with me doing this.” So the sponsorship piece is important. If you really want to be a mentor, for anybody but especially a woman, you know ask yourself, are you talking about her when she’s not even in the room? Are you her raving fan? And I think guys need to pay attention to that.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: You wrote an article for Hbr.org where you talked about the importance of mentors challenging their mentees – really pushing them out of their comfort zone and not going easy on them just because they do have that close, trusting relationship. What does that look like when it’s working well?

DAVID SMITH: Well, that’s a great point and something that’s important in all mentoring relationships, but in particular there’s a gendered aspect that we find we have to talk to men about in terms of how do we view and perceive our female mentees. And a lot of men – in the same ways it’s challenging to give direct critical feedback to women. Men might be thinking that, “Oh, I might hurt her feelings or might make her uncomfortable, and God forbid I make her emotional or cry.” And men do have this thing about tears. And we talked to quite a bit about tears and how to overcome that.

But I think that the challenge piece is really important because it does take, in many cases, getting your mentee in a situation where they are uncomfortable, right? This is were the elements and the area of growth begins. And being able to understand your mentee well enough that you know where those areas of growth are and you can put them in those. Right, and that’s what good mentors do: they open the doors, they find the opportunities, they find those stretch challenges in jobs that help the mentee to grow, and making sure that we do the same for our female mentees that we do for our male mentees out there.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: It’s funny to hear what female tears may feel like to a guy, since of course I have occasionally been the woman who has cried in a situation like that and I can sort of see the panic flit across the face of the older guy sort of giving me the advice that’s hard to hear. Do you see a lot of sort of generational differences on some of this stuff? You know, are the younger male mentors you’ve talked to doing different things than some of the older ones?

BRAD JOHNSON: I think that there is a generational difference. I think that you know it really depends on the individual male, but I think men of a certain generation, older men, can be a bit more reluctant and part of it has to do with, again, something that’s got a flavor of benign sexism. You heard it from Mike Pence, you know, a couple of years ago now where he said, you know, I’d never have a meal, a lunch with a woman who’s not my wife. There can just be that generational kind of segregating the sexes that feels appropriate, but it really undermines a women in terms of their opportunities if senior men are not willing to engage.

Now I will say not clearly, not all older men have that hang up and you do find a lot of guys who are known for being terrific allies.

DAVID SMITH: You know, I think one of the other things that – the differences in generations between younger men and older men is some of the way that we socialize our boys today. I think about the way we socialize our kids versus the way that I was socialized when I grew up. And certainly I think boys have different scripts today – social scripts to follow – if you think about, how interacting with a woman at work might be a social script that, I can say that, you know, probably the older generations didn’t have as many of those. They had to learn those once they left home.

And so for some of them, if they don’t have that script, they don’t know what it means to interact with a woman at work in a way that they’ve been taught, is they get kind of anxious about it. Right? And so one of the things we know again about anxiety is that we’re going to avoid it, right? Because we want to relieve that stress.

Or the other thing is they make fall back on a more – understanding of a social script that they do know and that might look like the, for example, the father-daughter one that we hear with older men in particular. And again, that’s a social script that I think a lot of people find to be very positive. I mean, I have a daughter, I think we have a great relationship. But it’s probably not appropriate in the workplace in a lot of ways. And then certainly we find in a lot of very traditional male professions out there where the chivalrous perspective comes into play as well – more of the benevolent sexism – and that’s kind of the knight in shining armor who’s there to rescue women. And again, women don’t need to be rescued in the workplace. That’s disempowering; it’s not giving the same opportunities as men to grow and develop.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: As I understand it – and you guys can tell me if I’m, if there needs to be more nuance here – but hostile sexism is kind of the “Make me a sandwich” and worse, you know, how we think of sexism when we think of it. But benevolent sexism when you compare that to chivalry, that might confuse people a little bit. So how do you define that term?

DAVID SMITH: Well, benevolent sexism, again, it sounds and appears to be very positive in how we approach the interaction between men and women. But in effect what it’s doing is it’s separating or denying or in other words, to put a woman up on a pedestal, right? To treat her in a way that’s keeping her from the same options and opportunities that we’re doing for men, right, is effectively doing the same thing as hostile sexism, where we’re separating and we’re discriminating on the basis of sex.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Like, I’m not going to give her this assignment because it requires a lot of late nights and you know, she has kids at home and that kind of thing. But then she doesn’t get the assignment.

DAVID SMITH: Absolutely. Yeah. Instead of asking her.

BRAD JOHNSON: It undermines her.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Are there things like that where the male mentors you work with have been kind of socialized to act a certain way and maybe in the process of mentoring a woman, they’re now realizing that that is not always the best way to be? Or it’s kind of expanding their sense of what they can do?

BRAD JOHNSON: Yeah. You know, the way the way guys are with each other occasionally, you know, all the bro humor, you know, you got leave that outside. That just doesn’t help. The competitive instinct – you know, a lot of guys when they get together, even mentor-mentee, you can see the competitiveness, you know, the bragging and all of that stuff. And again, not helpful and women will tell you, I don’t appreciate that, it doesn’t help me at all.

And then the whole location issue, the where – where do we meet, where do we get together? You know, if you’re a guy who tends to do all his mentoring in the evening over dinner and drinks, you’re probably not going to be mentoring many women. Women tell us: I’m just not comfortable with that. I don’t want gossip to start. I don’t want people to think that I’m sleeping my way to the top – and that’s totally not the case, but I don’t want the gossip to begin.

So guys got to think about this – create a level playing field. There was a vice president of Goldman Sachs who had a wonderful policy about this. He had a breakfast/lunch-only policy for mentoring. So he’d have his assistant only book is mentoring meetings over breakfast and lunch at a cafe. He found within just a few years he was mentoring sort of equally men and women and that was a big change for him because women felt comfortable with that.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I’m wondering now, we’ve talked about some things to do and some things to avoid and I’m a little worried that the men listening might be starting to think: this is all so much work. I don’t want to walk on eggshells all the time. Maybe I will just avoid this after all. What do you say to guys who were like, “Gosh, there’s a lot of rules here.”

BRAD JOHNSON: Yeah. So I think over the last year or two, Dave and I have actually grown a little more impatient with those guys. There are different reasons men may avoid women right now. I think there are some guys who are using Me Too as an excuse just to stay on the sidelines and not engage. You know, honestly, they may not be a great loss when it comes to the fight for more equity.

So, you know, if you’re a guy who’s anxious and you’re worried about engaging: what will people say, will there be gossip? Will she misperceive what I’m saying? The evidence is really clear: if you have anxiety, there’s only one treatment for that, that’s exposure. So you’ve got to lean in, you have to have more coffees and more lunches and more conversations with women and do it publicly. If that’s your brand, if that’s who you are in the workplace, people don’t talk about that guy. He is just known for being a great collaborator, equally for men and women. And that’s just not a guy who has to have anxiety.

DAVID SMITH: I think one other thing that we often remind men, because I think it’s important that they understand there is a benefit for themselves, right? So we obviously know a lot of the advantages that Brad mentioned earlier about what women get out of great mentoring. The organization certainly wins because we’re keeping talented people around and we’re developing them into great leaders. But men, there’s something in it for them to, as men mentoring women or being mentored by women, we find that again, they’re getting increased access to information across the organization that they otherwise wouldn’t have. They’re getting this more diverse network. And I think most importantly we see the increase in the interpersonal skills and empathy and EQ out there that translates beyond the workplace into the home. If men want to be more successful in the workplace and at home, right, this is a great opportunity for them. Yes, there’s a little bit of work. Nothing to be scared of though. It’s good for them as well.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: As we’ve been talking about all of this, I realized that we’ve kind of been talking about men and women as these sort of big groups. There’s obviously a lot of variation within each of those groups. How do you give advice on this without kind of being too stereotypical either about what men are like or about what women are like?

DAVID SMITH: I think that’s a great Point. And as you think about in particular, as we’re grouping women into this broader entity out there, that women of color have very different experiences. And I think that’s important. Again, the basics of mentoring I think that we’ve, we’ve been talking about work the same way: understanding people’s individual differences, understanding how their experiences and challenges are very different in the workplace.

I think as mentors and as leaders in our organization, we’re going to learn that much more about their experiences. And you know, race is just one, right? There are many elements of diversity that we can learn from as we think about mentoring people who don’t look like us broadly out there. And encouraging us to take a moment to look at our own network of, again, the people that we mentor as well as who I’m being mentored by. I think both are just as important as you think about who you’re learning from, right? Whether from more senior experience or your mentee more junior experience, that you need to have a very diverse network of people so you can, you’re getting these different perspectives. You’re getting different information, you’re making yourself more effective both as a mentor and as a leader in your organization.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So what about – you’ve sort of talked about the importance of being public about your mentorship and intervening in public as needed, but also not rescuing women. If you see – if there’s another guy in your office who’s not very enlightened on this stuff and he’s making inappropriate comments or in other ways kind of being you know, a little bit backwards on some of this stuff. How do you suggest approaching other guys about their approaches to this issue?

DAVID SMITH: Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think that there’s a few ways to think about it. Obviously it’s situationally dependent, but one of the things that we know is that if in the moment, right, if we react, we can correct. W e can react to something that happens and it’s really important because – especially if you’re in a situation where there’s other people watching, right, and other people listening. Whether that’s other men, it’s other women, you’re affecting what they’re thinking and their perceptions about what’s going on there.

And one of the things that we know is that men have a higher expectation or level of acceptance of sexism. They think that everybody else around them – their peers – have this really high level of acceptance of sexism and sexist behavior, for example, and that that’s why they’re not going to say anything. They’re not going to intervene in this case. The reality is that most men don’t. Most men are just as offended or put off by it as the rest of the women there, of course, as well.

The other side of that is – and this kind of behavior, what we call good ally behavior – and this goes not just for men and women, right, for allies of all sorts in the workplace – is that it helps the non-dominant group, right? In this case, we’re talking about women in the workplace, that it helps them to understand that they have higher, you know, they can have the confidence next time to speak up, right? When they see something like this happen, they don’t feel as much self-shame – in other words, that I brought this on upon myself in some way. And have more confidence and self-esteem in themselves. So it does affect how they feel in the moment as well as their ability to intervene or interact in the next opportunity.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So I’m wondering if people want to get started, what is the appropriate way to begin? Because you mentioned Sheryl Sandberg earlier. She has said, you know, you don’t just go around asking people to mentor you. That’s not how it works. But, so then if you’re a mentor, I mean presumably you don’t also wander around saying like, “Hello, I would like to mentor you.” So how do you actually get a relationship relationship like this off the ground?

DAVID SMITH: It always sounds better when Brad says it. How you say it, Brad?

BRAD JOHNSON: Yeah. So Dave and I actually do this exercise in workshops where we have men and women at tables and have them practice: How would you initiate, you know, a mentoring conversation? How would that look? Because a lot of guys are anxious about this. I see this talented junior woman, she’s a rock star, but I’m just, I don’t know how to even let her know I think that about her. I don’t want it to be misperceived.

And so in the role plays you’ll have some, you know, well-meaning, but you know, maybe unskilled men just kind of look at this person out of the blue and say, “I’d like to mentor you.” And it’s creepy and it’s weird and you know, she doesn’t know what you mean by that. There’s no context.

So we tell guys, be specific, say, “Hey, I saw you do this at that meeting” or “I watched how you put together this project and that was amazing. I’d be willing to chat with you anytime, you know, I’d love to hear where you’d like to go and if I can be helpful.” You know, so you offer and you know, I think very often she’s likely to take you up on that and have a conversation. Keep it low key; don’t require anything of her. Just make you know, make it clear that you think she’s terrific and has done something very specific that you’ve been noticing and then let her follow up with you.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Well, thank you both. This has been very enlightening for me and I appreciate the time.

BRAD JOHNSON: Yeah, our pleasure, Sarah.

DAVID SMITH: Thanks so much for having us.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That was Brad Johnson, professor of psychology at the United States Naval Academy, and David Smith, associate professor of sociology at the U.S. Naval War College. They are the co-authors of the book “Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women.”

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe and Curt Nickisch. We got technical and production help from Rob Eckhardt. Adam Buchholz is our audio product manager.

Thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Sarah Green Carmichael.

Audio and original post can be found on https://hbr.org/ideacast/2018/10/when-men-mentor-women

How Performance Evaluations Hurt Gender Equality

"I was told I was too aggressive, I was too blunt, I was too direct, and that I sounded pompous when I offered advice on recruiting, despite the fact that I had been there twice and was very successful,” Lt. Col. Kate Germano told Public Radio International in 2015, shortly after she was removed from command. “In my career of nineteen years, what I found was that my counterparts would not be told those things.”

Her male counterparts.

Germano isn’t the first to point to a double standard in how we judge the behavior of leaders. When men take charge, we say that they’re strong and assertive. Women, on the other hand, are all too often labeled bossy or aggressive.

Our findings suggest that people from under-represented groups can be penalized for not looking like a leader, and are told implicitly that they are not leaders through the messaging of performance evaluations.

This type of bias appears in performance evaluations. These evaluations are part of the process to identify, develop, and promote talented individuals and are designed to be meritocratic. Ironically, they can exacerbate the very gender inequities they are striving to reduce—like the anemic number of women in leadership positions.

Our research offers evidence of this from a large field study at an institution—a military service academy—that prides itself on equal opportunity and meritocracy. Our findings suggest that people from under-represented groups can be penalized for not looking like a leader, and are told implicitly that they are not leaders through the messaging of performance evaluations.

What does it mean to “look like a leader”? Research on leadership finds that people generally look for agentic characteristics (e.g., instrumental, task-focused, goal-oriented) in a leader whereas communal characteristics (e.g., nurturing, relationship-focused, collaborative) are less valued. Agentic traitsare typically associated with men and masculinity and communal traits are associated with women and femininity. Because men are often assumed to be agentic and women to be communal, women don’t look like leaders.

The message inherent in these descriptors is clear: the women evaluated were incompetent and not qualified to be leaders.

As a result, women in leadership positions face an impossible situation. They will either receive feedback highlighting their lack of feminine, communal attributes (“She’s not compassionate or organized enough”), criticizing them for taking too much power (“She’s abrasive, overbearing”), or for lacking some key leadership qualification (“She’s inept, temperamental”). No matter their leadership style, they are deemed unfit.

We saw these trends firsthand in our research on peer evaluations from a military-service academy. We examined subjective peer-performance evaluations of over 4,000 leaders and 81,000 assignments of leadership attributes (chosen from a predetermined list of 89 attributes: 44 positive and 45 negative). Based on prior research, we expected that men would be assigned more positive attributes and women would receive more negative ones.

There were no gender differences on objective performance measures (e.g., grades, fitness scores, class standings), a finding consistent with previous research on military populations. Thus, those metrics wouldn’t explain gender differences in attributes assigned by peers.

As predicted, women received more negative leadership attributes (in greater overall quantity and variety) than men. Specifically, women were more likely to be described as inept, frivolous, gossipy, excitable, scattered, temperamental, panicky, and indecisive—in other words, a host of negative feminine stereotypes. The message inherent in these descriptors is clear: the women evaluated were incompetent and not qualified to be leaders.

If these traits are so valued, why aren’t women retained and advanced equivalently to or at higher rates than men?

Interestingly, women were only penalized for acting in an agentic—i.e., more masculine—way with one negative attribute: selfish. For women leaders in historically male-dominated professions, such as the military, we expected more penalties for women who dared to usurp power as leaders. (While we do not have the data to explain this result, we speculate either that these future officers have not yet developed a traditionally masculine leadership style or that they have received sufficient negative feedback and backlash about their agentic [i.e., masculine] leadership style they that responded by adopting a more traditionally feminine leadership style.)

We also found that men and women received similar numbers of positive attributes, although the attributes they received were qualitatively different. While men were more likely to be assigned attributes such as analytical, competent, and logical, women received compassionate, enthusiastic, and organized. Arguably, all of these leadership attributes are aspirational and valuable (and when asked, people indicate that the most important traits in a leader are communal traits, such as compassion).

But let’s not overlook the elephant in the performance-review room: If these traits are so valued, why aren’t women retained and advanced equivalently to or at higher rates than men? Men, after all, are less likely to receive these attributes. Why is this not reflected in the senior military leadership (general and flag officers) as well as the C-suite?

The problem, it turns out, likely starts earlier in the leadership pipeline. At the officer ranks, women in combat jobs are retained at approximately half the rate as men. When it comes to promoting a new senior officer, there are simply more male officers to choose from.

Outside of the military, there’s renewed momentum to increase diversity and inclusion, improve retention rates, and achieve more equitable recruiting, hiring, and promotion. It’s crucial that the individuals leading the charge not overlook the power of performance-evaluation language, which can reinforce stereotypes that undermine these objectives. As applied researchers working to improve the workplace for all organizations, we’ve distilled a few evidence-based suggestions to minimize bias in performance evaluations:

Include unconscious-bias education as part of manager (leader) development training. Raising awareness of how we can inadvertently bias language in performance evaluations may not eliminate biased language, but it will certainly encourage evaluators to stop and think before providing feedback. Simple online programs are available to assess gender “coding” in job advertisements and other employment documents. Formal evaluation programs that use standardized lists of words or phrases should also be evaluated for biased language.

Be specific and clear about evaluation criteria. When evaluators don’t have specific criteria and evidence to measure the performance of an employee, they’re more likely to rely on information from bias and stereotype, like personality traits. Performance data might include productivity metrics, and evaluation criteria could include the number of sales calls in a specific period of time. We think there’s a great example of how to set this up here.

Hold evaluators accountable. When evaluators think no one will check on their work, they’re more likely to be lazy (picking the easiest path) and to unconsciously bias evaluations. Hold evaluators accountable for their work, and eliminate anonymity. Before they even start to do the work of evaluating, educate them about how biases can show up in evaluations—and about the impact.

Avoid lone-wolf evaluators. Ask several people to evaluate individuals. This encourages a broader perspective on performance.

Be transparent in who is evaluating, what is being evaluated, how it’s being evaluated, and why it’s being evaluated. Evaluators may say they value a particular skill or trait, but then make employment decisions that don’t match up. Decision makers can’t be held accountable, or expect to be held accountable, if there’s no transparency in how those decisions are made.

More frequent evaluation is better. Consistent and frequent evaluation—although not necessarily formal—provide for longitudinal and continuous appraisals, which are more likely to show progress, reinforce professional identity, and affirm organizational fit.

Across industries, senior management is desperately trying to retain talented women. Too often, these women receive formal and informal messaging that they neither belong nor fit, and they are penalized for their authentic leadership style. There are high costs associated with employee turnover, and overwhelming evidence suggests that businesses’ bottom lines increase by as much as 15 percent with more gender-diverse leadership teams in senior management, the C-suite, and the boardroom. Reducing evaluation bias is a business imperative.

Originally posted on http://behavioralscientist.org/how-performance-evaluations-hurt-gender-equality/

My Colleague: The Mentor

By David Smith, Ph.D.

Dr. Segal and Dr. David Smith

Dr. Segal and Dr. David Smith

One of my mentoring relationships really had an impact on my perspective about the importance of reciprocal mentoring. After almost 20 years as a Navy pilot, I found myself taking a leap of faith and finally following my passion for higher education. Having just been selected into a small community of military professors teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy, I first had to finish my graduate work to earn my doctorate degree in sociology at the University of Maryland. As it happened, my dissertation advisor became not only influential in my dissertation research, but a mentor for me to this day. We were never paired in a formal mentorship although the PhD candidate-advisor relationship could be viewed that way, but Dr. Mady Segal fundamentally changed the way I thought about mentoring relationships.

In our 12 years working together, I have never heard her use the “M” word (mentor), but I have heard her refer to me as a colleague many times. My military experience with mentoring relationships was very different to say the least. The hierarchical nature of the military and rank structure created more formal and power-laden relationships where a junior person could feel unable or even intimidated to reach out to someone more senior. But this was far different from my experience with Dr. Segal.


In our 12 years working together, I have never heard her use the “M” word (mentor), but I have heard her refer to me as a colleague many times.


From the beginning, I always felt like I was treated as an equal despite me being a student and  her being a foremost academic scholar with a list of publications, accolades and honors that we should all dream to achieve. She had a way of making me feel like she was guiding me along some path that she could see, but I did not. I always felt like she was preparing me to step into her shoes as this rising new professional, but without telling me what to do or assuming that I would follow exactly in her footsteps—collegial and the picture of what a good colleague looks like to me.

The path that she was guiding me along was the product of many hours of conversation. Really more like her asking a question and then listening to me fumble around trying to make sense of the jumble of ideas and thoughts I had. I’m still amazed she never dismissed me and said go find someone else to help you figure out your incoherence! Thoughtful, unassuming, and patient, she helped me hone my vision of where my research would go and who I would become as a scholar. I’d still be wandering around trying to figure it out if it wasn’t for her.


She had a way of making me feel like she was guiding me along some path that she could see, but I did not.


Throughout the last 12 years, she has unequivocally affirmed my abilities and talents as an academic. I can’t tell you how many times I questioned my ability to do the work required in the PhD program, publishing, presenting, and teaching. Not that I didn’t have years of experience doing similar things in the military, but this was not the military and I felt like I was often just one misstep away from someone figuring out that I didn’t belong. Dr. Segal has always provided that calm and reassuring voice of reason that gave me the confidence to perform in my new profession. This simple act of affirmation is so powerful and easy to take for granted. Truly something that we can do for each other as mentor and mentee as well.

Make no mistake, she had high expectations and standards. I often wonder how much I cost her in pens used to comment on my work. She challenged me in ways that I was not used to being challenged in the military, and especially as a senior officer. First, she challenged my thinking about diversity, privilege, the role of being an ally, and my language and behavior. There is no question that our conversations on these topics changed me in ways that ultimately defined my focus on research, scholarship, and teaching. She also challenged me to grow professionally outside my comfort zone in terms of academic skillsets. I can still remember the conversation we had about my frustration with not being able to fully answer my dissertation research questions through quantitative methods where I was comfortable. She told me that I would have to learn qualitative methods to accomplish what I was trying to do—so I learned qualitative methods that I have come to appreciate and made me a more versatile researcher. With Dr. Segal I can always count on direct feedback that is intended to help me grow and always delivered with an intent to make me a better researcher and scholar.


She challenged my thinking about diversity, privilege, the role of being an ally, and my language and behavior.


One of the hallmarks of an excellent reciprocal mentoring relationship is humility and sharing. I remember the first time as a student that Dr. Segal told me that a research finding of mine was interesting and novel. How could it be possible that she didn’t know everything and have all the answers? Later in our relationship after I was a more established researcher, I heard her tell countless academics how much she learned from me and many of her other mentees. And she often deflects questions to her mentees saying that we are the experts now who can better address their requests. Such humility and sharing of capital fundamentally characterizes the reciprocal nature of these mentoring relationships. She is an ally and advocate who never misses the opportunity to make introductions to connect me, highlight my work, and let influential people know how much she values my work. It’s always a bit awkward for me to hear that knowing that she has been the expert in these areas for decades.

As with all great mentoring relationships, they evolve—as has our relationship. I count myself fortunate to call her my friend and colleague. We don’t see each other as often anymore, but she checks in on me occasionally, as do I with her. We never outgrow the need for mentoring. And in case you’re wondering, I have never heard her call herself my mentor—I do that.

Originally posted on https://www.reciprocalmentoringlab.com/my-colleague-the-mentor/

Don’t Rescue Women: Be a Reciprocal Mentor

By David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

When women are mentored by menthey make more money, receive more promotions, and report greater satisfaction with their career trajectories. As importantly, cross-gender reciprocal mentorship relationships are also beneficial for men’s careers.

For both men and women to benefit, you’ll need to change the standard approach of a mentor being an all-knowing guru who dispenses knowledge. These typically hierarchical, one-way relationships frame men who mentor women as championsheroes, even rescuers. In this model, the mentor shares wisdom, throws down challenges, and when necessary, protects his protégé from all malignant forces in the organization. Enter the chivalrous knight-damsel in distress archetype. As Jennifer de Vries has astutely observed, painting male allies and mentors as heroic rescuers actually strengthens the gendered status quo, inadvertently reinforcing male positional power while framing women as ill-prepared for serious leadership roles.

So what’s a decent guy to do? Happily, there is a promising alternative to the traditional, hierarchical, unidirectional mentoring model. We call it reciprocal mentoring.

Cross-gender reciprocal mentorships are essentially partnerships in which men and women play complementary roles leading to career and personal development for both parties, and ultimately, greater gender equality in the workplace.

In her research on reciprocal mentorship, Belle Rose Ragins discovered that mentorships with the greatest life-long impact are more mutual. In these relationships, there is greater fluidity in expertise between members.

1. High-impact reciprocal mentorships deal with more than career advancement and compensation and include discussions about concerns that include: professional identity, work-family integration, and personal confidence.

2. The best mentoring relationships between men and women are based on:

  • Mutual listening and affirmation
  • Humility
  • Shared Power

3. The most effective mentoring relationships occur when they challenge each other and provide direct specific feedback. Too many men are averse to pushing their female mentees the way they push their male protégés. The best mentors don’t harbor stereotypes about women’s capabilities or resilience in the face of challenge. They confront their mentees when they avoid challenges or perform below potential.

Here are two examples from our research:

When Navy Lieutenant, Tabitha Strobel, one of the first women assigned to a U. S. Navy submarine, reported for duty, her male mentors were deliberate about pulling no punches. She got the same tough assignments and challenging watches as her male counterparts, all of it designed to immunize her for the operational challenges ahead.

It took Susan Chambers, Vice President at Walmart, some time to appreciate that her mentor’s constant challenges were a clear expression of care and commitment: “He set such high standards and expectations; he expected me to move so much faster and to achieve so much more than I ever had before. At the time, I felt it was unfair. But it’s only as I look back that I realize I wouldn’t be in my current role without it. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the difficulties I’ve been through if I had not had someone who cared and expected that much early in my career.”

Inclusive leaders are learning that women and men perform better, advance faster, and choose to stay in their organizations when they are reciprocal mentors to each other.

Originally posted on https://thewaywomenwork.com/2018/06/dont-rescue-women-be-a-reciprocal-mentor/

The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders


We like to think of ourselves as unbiased and objective in our employment decisions, but with two equal candidates, who are you going to promote? Someone who is described in their performance evaluations as analytical or someone who is described as compassionate? On the other end of the employment spectrum, if you’re downsizing and have to fire someone and the two people in jeopardy are very similar, who are you going to fire? Someone perceived as arrogant or someone perceived as inept? Leadership attributions in performance evaluations are powerful.

A unique and fascinating data set allowed us to explore the language used to describe individuals in subjective performance evaluations and provides evidence that, as we suspected, language in performance evaluations is applied differently to describe men and women. We analyzed a large-scale military dataset (over 4,000 participants and 81,000 evaluations) to examine objective and subjective performance measures that included a list of 89 positive and negative leadership attributes that were used to assess leader performance in a military leadership setting.

The military provides an interesting and significant setting to evaluate gender bias as it is a long-standing and traditionally male profession that has, over several decades, worked to eliminate formal gender segregation and discrimination. For performance evaluations specifically, the military has long been predicated on meritocratic ideals of fairness and justice providing equal opportunity regardless of demographics. The top-down enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies, hierarchical organization by military rank and not social status characteristics, and recent total gender integration in all occupations are hallmarks of meritocratic organizations where we might expect less gender bias in performance evaluations.

In our analysis we found no gender differences in objective measures (e.g., grades, fitness scores, class standing), which is consistent with prior research. However, the subjective evaluations provided a wealth of interesting findings.

For starters, in terms of sheer numbers of attributes, we found no gender difference in the number of positive attributes assigned, but women were assigned significantly more negative attributes.

We also looked at which specific attributes were more often assigned to men and to women. This gives us a better idea of how gendered language is employed in leader evaluations. The most commonly used positive term to describe men was analytical, while for women it was compassionate. At the other extreme, the most commonly used negative term to describe men was arrogant. For women, it was inept. We found statistically significant gender differences in how often these terms (and others) were used (relative to the other positive or negative terms available for selection) when describing men and women — even though men’s and women’s performances were the same by more objective measures.


So what? Both “analytical” and “compassionate” reflect positively on the individual being evaluated. However, could one characterization be more valuable from an organizational standpoint? The term analytical is task-oriented, speaking to an individual’s ability to reason, to interpret, to strategize, and lending support to the objectives or mission of the business. Compassion is relationship-oriented, contributing to a positive work environment and culture, but perhaps of less value to accomplishing the work at hand. When considering who to hire, who to promote, or who to compensate, which person— with which attribute—takes the prize?

Likewise, who is retained and who is fired? An arrogant employee may have a character flaw–and a negative impact on his work environment—but may still be able to accomplish the task or job. An inept person, in contrast, is clearly not qualified and presumably on her way out.

Our research on leadership attributes found significant differences in the assignment of 28 leadership attributes when applied to men and women. While men were more often assigned attributes such as analytical, competent, athletic and dependable, women were more often assigned compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic and organized. Consistent with our results, societal attitudes suggest that women leaders are described as more compassionate (the most assigned attribute overall) and organized than men leaders. In contrast, women were more often evaluated as inept, frivolous, gossip, excitable, scattered, temperamental, panicky, and indecisive, while men were more often evaluated as arrogant and irresponsible.

These are not just words — they can have real-life implications for employees and organizations. Language in performance evaluations can tell us what is valued and what is not in an organization. Employees also know what is valued and make choices and decisions about how well they fit in an organization and their potential to advance.

Our research is in line with other studies that have found differences in formal feedback for men and women. Some studies have shown that women are more likely to receive vague feedback that is not connected to objectives or business outcomes, which is a disadvantage when women are competing for job opportunities, promotions, and rewards, and in terms of women’s professional growth and identity. And women leaders often get conflicting feedback — told on the one hand that they’re too bossy or aggressive, but on the other that they should be more confident and assertive. A huge body of work has found that when women are collaborative and communal, they are not perceived as competent—but when they emphasize their competence, they’re seen as cold and unlikable, in a classic “double bind.”

One of the things that’s ironic about our findings is that many of the leadership traits that people say they most appreciate, want in a leader, or make a successful leader are the positive traits — such as compassion — that women leaders receive in their performance evaluations. So why isn’t this translating into more women in these roles? It’s one thing to describe an ideal leader, it’s another to describe a real person’s performance without being influenced by stereotypes about their gender, or stereotypes about what a leader should be.

Because of widely held societal beliefs about gender roles and leadership, when most people are asked to picture a leader, what they picture is a male leader.  Even when women and men behave in leaderly ways among peers — speaking up with new ideas, for example — it’s men who are seen as leaders by the group, not women. And as our study shows, even in this era of talent management and diversity and inclusion initiatives, our formal feedback mechanisms are still suffering from the same biases, sending subtle messages to women that they aren’t “real leaders”— men are.

Originally posted on https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-different-words-we-use-to-describe-male-and-female-leaders

Two Dudes Writing About Women, With David Smith

In this episode, we hear from former Navy Commanding Officer, David Smith, a sociologist who co-authored Athena Rising, a book by men to men about mentoring women.

Dave dives into some of the challenges men face today mentoring women in the #MeToo environment, and highlights the benefits — to men — that show why men should double-down on interacting with their female colleagues – not pull away.

A couple books mentioned by David in this episode:

David Smith, PhD, is the co-author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women and Associate Professor of Sociology in the National Security Affairs Department at the United States Naval War College. A former Navy pilot, Dr. Smith led diverse organizations of women and men culminating in command of a squadron in combat and flew more than 3,000 hours over 19 years including combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a sociologist trained in military sociology and social psychology, he focuses his research in gender, work, and family issues including dual career families, military families, women in the military, and retention of women. Dr. Smith is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters—many on the topic of gender and the workplace. Learn more about David at his website: davigsmithphd.com

Also check out: Work, Pause, Thrive, by Lisen Stromberg, about non-linear work paths.

Originally posted on https://unravelingpink.com/2018/04/09/two-dudes-writing-about-women-with-david-smith/#more-850 

Men Learn How to Be ‘Allies,’ Without Fear, to Female Colleagues

Navigating the rules of office engagement in the #MeToo era, males seek guidance on mentoring women without crossing a line; avoiding ’man-terruptions and ’bro-propriations’

The Male Ally Summit in New York featured workshops, panel discussions and role-playing exercises. PHOTO: BRIANA ELLEDGE

The Male Ally Summit in New York featured workshops, panel discussions and role-playing exercises. PHOTO: BRIANA ELLEDGE

By John Simmons

Being a male ally in the era of #MeToo takes some practice.

Jeremy Sussman, a Google product manager, recently told a young woman sitting beside him, “I’ve noticed your work and you’re very good.”

The visibly uneasy Mr. Sussman, who is 49, continued to explain that he has mentored other women in the past. “And if you want to have that kind of conversation, I’m willing to do it,” he said.

The woman responded positively, but Aloke Desai, a 24-year-old software developer on Google’s Docs team, interrupted the conversation. “I don’t know,” Mr. Desai said. “I got a little date-y vibe from it.”

The exchange was part of a training exercise at last week’s Male Ally Summit, where 90 men, predominantly from the tech industry, gathered for a day of workshops, panel discussions and role-playing sessions at an event space in New York. The conference, organized by the nonprofit women’s organization AnitaB.Org, was designed to help men who want to serve as mentors and advocates for female co-workers but also want guidance in navigating the supercharged atmosphere some workplaces have become for male-female working relationships.

#MeToo has a lot of men watching their step—but not always in ways that are helpful to women. After a number of powerful men lost their jobs over sexual-misconduct allegations, many others—unsure of how to engage with women at work—are responding by distancing themselves from female colleagues. They are sidestepping one-on-one meetings, ducking out of after-work drinks and, in some cases, leaving women out of the day-to-day interactions that build professional relationships and further careers.

Nearly half of male managers said they were uncomfortable joining a woman in a common work activity, such as mentoring, working alone or socializing together, according to a recent survey of about 3,000 employed adults from LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit organization that aims to support women’s careers. And 55% of American men said the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault has made it harder for them to know how to interact with women at work, according to a new Pew Research Center Poll of more than 6,000 adults.

Men like the 90 gathered at the Male Ally Summit in New York say they are doubling down on their commitment to help women advance by coaching them and calling out biases. Most attendees said they found out about the event through friends or co-workers. Many said they were expensing the $250 admission fee for the event to their employers.

The conference’s keynote speakers were Brad Johnson and David Smith, co-authors of “Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women,” published by Routledge in 2016. They said instead of pulling away from female co-workers, men should actively pursue more equality at the office.

“What that means is more coffees, more dinners, more mentorship,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that men need to find a way to offer help without simply opening with “I’d like to be your mentor.” Any offer of mentorship should always be accompanied by a concrete observation about the potential mentee’s work performance, he said.

The two authors noted that women receive less mentoring when men wait for those relationships to form in an organic way and now some men are reticent to extend the offer.

“They truly are scared that they’re going to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, but some men are using this as an excuse,” said Mr. Smith.

Panel discussion as part of a conference, organized by the nonprofit women’s organization AnitaB.Org, designed to help men who want to serve as mentors and advocates for female coworkers but also want guidance in navigating workplace dynamics. PHOTO: BRIANA ELLEDGE

Panel discussion as part of a conference, organized by the nonprofit women’s organization AnitaB.Org, designed to help men who want to serve as mentors and advocates for female coworkers but also want guidance in navigating workplace dynamics. PHOTO: BRIANA ELLEDGE

Panel discussion as part of a conference, organized by the nonprofit women’s organization AnitaB.Org, designed to help men who want to serve as mentors and advocates for female coworkers but also want guidance in navigating workplace dynamics. PHOTO: BRIANA ELLEDGE

Kyle Fritz, a software development engineer at Audible, said he isn’t comfortable assuming the mantle of male ally just yet. He has been training as a manager with a team of four men and one woman at the Amazon Inc.-owned audio entertainment company for six months. In that time, he says he has been putting male allyship into practice, mostly by employing calculated strategies to involve women more.

Early on, Mr. Fritz noticed a pattern in his team’s unstructured brainstorming sessions: “The guys would get animated, snatching pens out of each other’s hands to write on the whiteboard,” he said. Meanwhile, the team’s only female, who has more experience than the men, would withdraw.

To give her more of a voice, Mr. Fritz ditched the whiteboard, which created a dynamic where men jockeyed for position, and now holds meetings around a table.

Jamy Barton, a senior director of program management at Audible—and one of about 20 women in attendance—said she simply wants colleagues who want the best people in the room to get the best results.

“I just want someone who has my back, listens to me communicate in my own way,” she said.

In meetings, male allies can help women guard against two common occurrences–“bro-propriations,” or instances where a man takes credit for restating an idea previously raised by a woman in the same meeting, and “man-terruptions,” which is just what it sounds like, said Karen Catlin, a former vice president of engineering at Adobe Systems Inc., who now helps technology firms find ways to attract and retain more women.

Her suggestion: Pipe up and say something like, “I see you agree with a point Ana made earlier in the meeting” or, “I’d like to hear Emma finish her thought.”

Daniel Wong, a 24-year-old consultant for Microsoft Corp. based in Phoenix, helps companies implement the software giant’s Azure cloud computing service. Lately, he said, he has been coaching a female co-worker on ways to establish credibility with clients who doubt her expertise.

“That kind of thing never happens to me,” Mr. Wong said.

Originally posted on https://www.wsj.com/articles/men-learn-how-to-be-allies-without-fear-to-female-colleagues-1522849814

Men Mentoring Women: Can It Change the System?

By Melissa Richardson

Like many women (and men), I believe that ‘the system’ itself needs to change before the female half of our population will be appropriately represented in the echelons of power.  (By the system, I mean the ingrained habits, behaviours and rewards in place in most work environments – they are the invisible ‘rules’ that have been made mostly by men because men have been in positions of power.)

Even as an advocate for the power of mentoring, I do not believe that mentoring women is magically going to fix ‘the system’. However, if men in positions of power mentor women, and do so in an appropriate and empowering fashion, then more women may rise to the top and feel confident in positions of power.

The more women comfortably inhabit the top ranks, the more likely the system will change. In addition, men who mentor women often experience a change in their understanding of what it is like to be a woman in their business or profession, and this in turn can influence how the rules continue to be made.

The key words there are “appropriate and empowering”.  We do not want to mentor women to behave just like men.

The goal instead must be to enable them to deal with power confidently, while still remaining women.

I recently finished reading Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women.  The authors are two men with military and academic careers, who have personally witnessed some of the most male-dominated workplaces.

Although women were interviewed as part of the research for the book, it ultimately brings a very male perspective to the art of mentoring women.

Some of the 46 dos and don’ts listed in the book really resonated with me as important in truly empowering women through mentoring.  So if you are a man who is mentoring a woman and you don’t have time to read the whole book, here are my top eight from the list.

The first three relate to confronting feelings about and behaviour toward women that you may not even be aware are happening.


Know Thyself: Confront your Gender Biases

I agree with the authors on the importance of recognising those unconscious assumptions we make about each other every day.  Attitudes and expectations about women are so deep-seated that you may not even be conscious of them.  Work to recognise your own beliefs before the relationship begins.  (The book has a few good exercises you can try.)


Let her cry if she needs to cry

It is so important that tears are not seen as a sign of weakness or incompetence.  Women do tend to cry more than men, but as the authors put it, “Tears are not inconsistent with excellent work, including first-rate leadership.”


Make Sure She Gets Included

The book very well describes the phenomenon of women being excluded, while men are completely impervious to their isolation.  As a man mentoring a woman one of the most valuable contributions you can make to her career is simply ensuring that she is included in key meetings, has access to key information and does not allow herself to be taken for granted.

The next points relate to “male” behaviour that needs to be kept in check when mentoring women.


Be honest, direct and unconditionally accepting

Men are socially conditioned to believe it is ungentlemanly to hurt a woman or make her cry.  While noble, this attitude can be limiting to a female mentee.  In order to facilitate growth, a mentor must not pull punches with a mentee, regardless of gender.


Help her construct a rich constellation of career helpers

As the authors so beautifully put it, “for goodness sake, don’t do the guru thing”.  Men are encouraged to avoid protective and possessive behaviour with their female mentees.  Instead open doors to your networks and allow her to collect a range of career helpers.

These next two points are particularly relevant when mentoring a woman in a very male-dominated environment.


Don’t promote her before she’s ready

This advice seems counter-intuitive, but touches on a very real trap for many women.  In organisations with a dearth of women at the top, there can be pressure to push a mentee up the chain as quickly as possible.  The authors correctly identify this as “benign sabotage”.  Push too hard or too fast and you will set your mentee up for a fall.


Affirm that she belongs (over and over)

I wish it were otherwise, but the authors are correct in identifying that woman can suffer imposter syndrome in a male-centric environment.  Sometimes a woman’s biggest barrier to success is her own self-doubt.  Male mentors need to understand this phenomenon, be sensitive to the signs and look for every opportunity to confirm that she belongs at the top.


This final point is my personal favourite.


No cloning allowed!

This advice is relevant in almost any mentoring relationship.  After all, we mentor to enable mentees to grow and become empowered, not to create a bunch of Mini-Mes.

It is particularly important that men not try to mould their female mentees in their own image.  What is needed, both for women as individuals and for the goal of a gender-balanced workplace, is for women to develop as authentic leaders – not as male mimics.

Building the Future Radio Show

Increasingly, new employees and junior members of any profession are encouraged—sometimes stridently—to “find a mentor!” Four decades of research reveals that the effects of mentorship can be profound and enduring; strong mentoring relationships have the capacity to transform individuals and entire organizations. Organizations that retain and promote top talent—both female and male—are more likely to thrive.

But the mentoring landscape is unequal. Evidence consistently shows that women face more barriers in securing mentorships than men, and when they do find a mentor, they may reap a narrower range of both career and psychological benefits. Athena Rising is a book for men about how to mentor women deliberately and effectively. It is a straightforward, no-nonsense manual for helping men of all institutions, organizations, and businesses to become excellent mentors to women.

Co-authors W. Brad Johnson, PhD, and David Smith, PhD, draw from extensive research and years of experience as experts in mentoring relationships and gender workplace issues. When a man mentors a woman, they explain, the relationship is often complicated by conventional gender roles and at times hostile external perceptions. Traditional notions of mentoring are often modeled on male-to-male relationships—the sort that begin on the golf course, involve a nearly exclusive focus on career achievement, and include more than a few slaps on the back over drinks after work. But women often report a desire for mentoring that integrates career and family aspects of life. Women want a mentor who not only “gets” this, but truly honors it.

Men need to fully appreciate just how crucial their support of promising junior women can be in helping them to persist, promote, and thrive in their vocations and organizations. As women succeed, lean in, and assume leading roles in any organization or work context, that culture will become more egalitarian, effective, and prone to retaining top talent.



Article Author: W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D.; and David Smith, Ph.D.

Whether at the boardroom table or the break room table, women are more likely to be overlooked or just plain ignored by men. Sometimes, they don’t even get a seat at the table. And when they do get a seat, their ideas and contributions are not always taken seriously. Thinking about her own early career experience at the executive table, Kathy Hannan, partner for diversity and corporate responsibility for KPMG, said, “I had been sitting around the key leadership table. At times, I would make a comment and it would get a tepid response, maybe some head nodding. Then, two or three people down the line, a male says exactly what I just said and everyone says, ‘Wow,’ and starts discussing it like it’s a new idea.” Several women interviewed for this book recounted stories in which their input was dismissed by male bosses; some felt so undervalued that they quit contributing their insights.

In the 21st century workplace, how do we make sense of these women’s experiences? When asked, men often fail to even recognize that these dismissive episodes are occurring. Our tendency as men is to unknowingly sell women at work short, largely as a by‑product of the way we have come to understand men’s and women’s roles in society. Despite the fact that there are almost twice as many women in the workforce today, by percentage, than there were in 1950, we still find persistent stereotypes about women’s roles at work and home. Automatic perceptions and assumptions that women are nurturing, warm, and communal may sound positive, yet they can be limiting and undermine women’s opportunities to compete and excel in the workplace. Our gendered perceptions make it too easy to overlook those everyday Athenas around us.

As you can surmise, our biased man perceptions about women create for them a prickly double bind. On one hand, we may perceive our female mentees as compassionate and caring nurturers, but in so doing we may be unable to envision them as the “take charge and move out” leaders we need for key projects and challenging missions. In a similar vein, men may avoid recommending women for assignments that are too challenging or “in the trenches” because we don’t see them as capable or aspiring to these tasks. Sometimes, our deeply engrained protective man scripts get triggered. When this happens, our efforts to “protect” a talented woman actually sabotage her opportunity to compete and prove herself. In our world, the U.S. military, these stereotypes reinforce the perception that women are better suited for staff or support roles than for operational “combatant” roles that lead to the higher echelons of power and leadership.

Unfortunately, the negative consequences of our man perceptions don’t end there. For instance, women who are directive and authoritative at work often get labeled “dragon ladies” and “iron bitches”; they are perceived to be coldhearted, abrasive, and bossy. As guys, we tend to steer clear of these women, often some of the most promising future leaders for our organizations and our nation. And if we find strong women noxious in some way, what does that say about our ability to see them as potential mentees? What are the chances we’ll seek them out, engage, and begin providing crucial career support? In part 2 of this guide, “Mentoring Women: A Manual for Men,” we’ll challenge you to not reinforce these unrealistic perceptions when women at work demonstrate confident, decisive, and industrious behavior.

Volumes of social psychology research reveal that men evaluate certain behaviors quite differently when exhibited by a man or a woman. If you think you judge John’s behavior the same as Jill’s—even in identical situations—you’re kidding yourself. For instance, as guys we might be comfortable with yelling at work, or give each other a pass when it happens—what dude doesn’t lose his temper on occasion? But what about a woman who yells? Well, she’s got to be overemotional or dangerous—return of the “PMSing dragon lady.” And if a woman cries, well . . . what’s new? But for a dude to cry or tear up when getting critical feedback . . . now, that’s awkward, just plain “unmanly.” Our perceptions about “appropriate” emotions create another double bind for women. If she doesn’t cry, she’s cold and emotionless. But if he is dry eyed we applaud him for controlling his emotions. Getting the picture? Women who aspire to rise through the ranks and assume leadership roles must confront persistent double binds and inconsistent standards for leadership potential.

Just as important for women at work is what men fail to perceive. The perception that women are nurturing and caring is largely based on our experience of seeing women in family roles as primary caregivers. In fact, women in general do perform more childcare and household chores than men. Evidence shows that working women are 60 percent more likely than men to have full-time working spouses. Why is this important? Because dual-career families have more challenges related to childcare and managing a household, and women in these families end up doing the lion’s share of the domestic work. And, of course, mothers are seen as less committed to their careers. This affects wages, promotions, and hiring, a de facto “motherhood penalty.” Effective male mentors must become alert to stereotypical perceptions of women in the workplace and then find strategies for mitigating their effects on the promising women they champion.

Excerpt from “Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women,” by W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D.; and David Smith, Ph.D. (reprinted with permission of Taylor & Francis Group).

Originally posted on https://trainingmag.com/perceiving-everyday-athenas