This article was originally written for, and published by, Startups Magazine in May 2022.
In 1975, when the UK first made it illegal to discriminate in the workplace on the grounds of sex, it’s unlikely that many people in the workforce had a formal “mentor”. Yet so many of us can recall how the guidance of one person, be it a teacher or senior colleague, had a profoundly positive impact on the direction of our lives and careers.
As we continue to take steps to challenge inequality in the workplace, I believe that active mentoring and sponsorship programmes are one of the most powerful strategies to close the gender gap at work and empower more women to move into senior positions.
Although we have made tremendous progress in the last few years addressing imbalances across the entire workforce, there remains an unequal proportion of women in senior roles in the UK. In mid-market companies just a quarter of CEOs are women and across Britain’s top 350 listed companies only one in three leadership positions and a quarter of executive committee roles are held by women.
There is a famous quote by the American rights activist Marian Wright Edelman who said: “You can’t be what you can’t see”. It is a phrase that has been used by many people campaigning to improve equality, diversity and inclusion at work. I consider the role of mentors and role models at work to be absolutely critical as a way to improve diversity at the top levels and also as a powerful tool to maximise performance. This is why I am passionate about acting as a role model both for my female colleagues at Live Group and for women looking to join company boards.
Mentoring and support networks are not just about getting together for a chat over coffee. A well-matched mentor is someone who takes an active interest in their mentee’s careers, shares their experience and wisdom, encourages new ways of thinking and helps facilitate learning.
Nor is it a one-way flow of information, with mentors often benefiting hugely from the feedback and perspective of their mentee. Research clearly shows the benefits with both mentors and mentees improving their skills, self-confidence and emotional intelligence.There are more tangible benefits that reflect the improved performance that mentoring facilitates. Twenty-five percent of those in mentoring programmes get a pay rise, 87% say they feel empowered at work, and mentees are much more likely to be promoted.
Following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which women’s jobs have been considerably more vulnerable than men’s, it is crucial that we reinvigorate the support that mentorship can offer.
One of the most obvious and stubborn areas of work where imbalances and hurdles to progress remain is money. The latest UK snapshot of the gender pay gap shows that, on average, women earn around 10% less than their male colleagues.
For women entrepreneurs too, financial barriers are still a major obstacle. A report last year showed that, in the US, just two percent of VC investment went to women-led companies. This leaves significant entrepreneurial potential untapped.
Senior business leaders of all genders have a vital role to play in addressing these imbalances by supporting women, through mentorship, to aid their professional development and help them to achieve their goals and attain senior positions.
The advice and information shared by networks of mentors and mentees is also crucial in helping women’s voices to be heard at every professional level. Nurturing future leaders through positive mentoring is the key to unlocking doors that have historically remained closed for many.
I am honoured to play my part in providing mentorship for my female colleagues at Live Group and I encourage senior men and women to make time to mentor women within their businesses and industries as a way to address inequality at a senior level.
Authored by: Emilie West, Non-Executive Director at Live Group