Male Mentors Behavior Towards Their Female Mentees


It’s great to see the august Harvard Business Review addressing mentoring and more specifically the issue of female mentees in the article Male Mentors Shouldn’t Hesitate to Challenge Their Female Mentees by David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson.

Here’s is their take on the role of mentors, which includes career functions, which have been outside my purview mentoring entrepreneurs.

Excellent mentors generally provide two clusters of critical mentoring functions. Psychosocial functions include encouragement, friendship, and emotional support. Career functions include direct teaching, advocacy, coaching, visibility, and challenge.

Their attitude toward mentoring is far more aggressive than mine or the organizations I have volunteered for:

Great mentors push, dare, and confront mentees. They are persistent in challenging mentees to do and experience things they might otherwise neglect or even actively avoid. This becomes even more important considering the range of trials and tribulations that women in male-centric organizations are likely to face.

My training as a mentor has been to guide, advise, and provide feedback to founders. On my own I have found that probing by questioning their assumptions and pushing them to think more about issues such as customer acquisition or pricing models helps founders to clarify their thinking. I don’t view this as “challenging” but it could certainly be seen that way, as I and other mentors certainly don’t passively accept everything the founder presents or remain silent if they have skipped over an important issue, such as the specific roles of the founding team.

But the HBR article is really focused on career development, not founder development. However, this article is still worth reading for the conclusions the researchers reached about how women are mentored.

  • First, men often harbor stereotypes about women’s capacities.
  • Second, many men enact social scripts for relationships with women that stem from their own socialization around gender and their experience with key role models.
  • Finally, some men may avoid challenging women because they are fearful that she may become “emotional” and cry.

To their credit the authors don’t just highlight the issues they also recommend specific behaviors for males mentors when mentoring females. However, I don’t see why these guidelines don’t apply equally to male mentees.

  • First, recognize that challenge and critical feedback need not be inconsistent with empathic kindness and care.
  • Second, avoid pretense and be yourself with mentees
  • Third, unconditional regard signals to your mentee that you are all-in as a champion and ally, even when her performance flags.
  • Last, don’t take shortcuts when it comes to challenging your mentee to tackle things she’d rather avoid.

I do recommend you read the full article for important details behind the bullet points I’ve excerpted. There is always more to learn about mentoring and certainly there are aspects of career mentoring that apply equally to mentoring founders.




Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

One thought on “Male Mentors Behavior Towards Their Female Mentees”

  1. This may not be appropriate to your blog today, and men may know these things, and might be offended by mentioning them, but things like over-familiarity, touching, vocab. like our governor used in campaigning when speaking informally to a woman,caught on camera. Good manners and respect for all, everybody knows, but sometimes people revert in their word choices like stereotypic stuff regarding women, so, just saying…as your buddy Callie would say.


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