LONDON – This week, the sublimely gifted Emma Watson has taken to the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos to exhort the corridors of power worldwide to do more to ensure that women are equal participants in the workplace.
As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador – not to mention a star of one the highest grossing film franchises of all time – Watson has the sort of global platform that can enable her latest initiative – IMPACT 10x10x10 to make some real inroads in “encouraging governments, businesses and universities to make concrete commitments to gender equality.” But you don’t need to be Hermione Granger to play a role in advancing women’s status and power in the workplace.
Indeed, we can all do our part – particularly we middle-aged, mid-career female professionals who are close enough to remembering what it was like to be struggling to move up the career ladder but senior enough to have a few years of worthwhile experience under our belt. Which is why I took the decision in 2015 to start mentoring younger female colleagues in my company to help them both identify and realize their own potential.
I didn’t do this on my own. I’m lucky to work for a large, global company which decided to support the creation of a women’s network to help represent and promote women’s interests. As part of that effort, a mentoring scheme was set up that pairs senior female colleagues who wish to offer guidance with junior female employees who have requested help with specific career-related challenges.
But the beauty of being a mentor is that you don’t need to work inside a large company – or even a formal hierarchy – to make a difference. All you need is a transferable skill set, a bit of empathy and the ability to help someone breakdown their big picture work issues into tractable, bite-sized chunks that they can realistically tackle in the office. Writers, scholars, artists, social workers – anybody, really – can and should make a difference in this realm.
Nor, in this globally connected age, do you need to work down the hall from one another. While it’s great to build that sort of “face time” into your mentorship relationship, it’s not at all necessary. Right now, I’m mentoring a young woman who lives and works 5,000 miles away from me. Each month we meet via Skype to talk about everything from how to chart a course for professional advancement which draws upon her skills and interests at work to how to communicate better with her (introverted) boss to how to navigate the social expectations facing a single, unmarried woman in her early 30s in a country where she’s long overdue to have given birth to her first child.
Of course, you don’t need to be a woman to be a useful mentor to another woman. But in a world where fewer than five percent of America’s Fortune 500 company CEOs are women, the pace of change toward getting women onto the boards of major American companies has been “slow by virtually any measure,” and research shows women consistently failing to speak up as much as men at work. It’s hard to deny – pace Emma Watson – that there isn’t a heckuva lot to be done to help women advance before we shatter that whole glass ceiling thing.
There are all sorts of reasons why it’s also good for your own career to become a mentor. I’ll address those in a subsequent post.
Sometimes, however, it’s not about you. I’m very supportive of the whole “Lean In” movement that’s been in vogue over the past several years. But while the philosophy underpinning “Lean In” is all about working together, it often gets interpreted as doing what’s good for your own professional development so that you, too, can one day deliver that proverbial keynote address at Davos.
That’s a real mistake. Surely we want to harness our collective power to make sure that there are even more Emma Watsons down the road.
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.
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