For Women in Law By Women in Law

Men, I Implore You, Please Mentor Women

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Having good mentorship can make a world of a difference to a professional’s career trajectory. I have experienced this personally and have no doubt that without the men and women who have taken an interest in my career development, I would not be as successful as I am today.

Indeed, mentors help mentees navigate their challenging careers and, in turn, stick with them. Mentors, also, often turn into sponsors, who advocate for their mentees to achieve career milestones. They ensure their mentees are given career opportunities and they defend them at the leadership table.

While there have been a few male professionals who have invaluably contributed to my development as a lawyer, I often felt my male colleagues’ discomfort with mentoring me. While these male colleagues might take my male peers out for golf or a beer, I sensed a reticence to engage in activities outside of the office with me (especially one-on-one) or to even sit in my office with the door closed. Recently, I was even advised by a friend, who is a senior lawyer at a national law firm, that male partners have revealed to them that they avoid women in the workplace out of fear of being accused of boundary violations.

But, we do not need my personal feelings or hearsay to ground this in reality. Research by finds that 60% of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring or working with women; and in the post #metoo era, some men have shied away from cross-gender relationships at work.

This is alarming to me because of how important I think male-female mentorship is: In my view, with exceptions – of course, a woman cannot have the same development and career trajectory if they are predominately/only mentored by other women. There are several reasons for this.

First off, there are still fewer women in senior positions than men. Thus, there are fewer senior female mentors available to women, and those senior female professionals are also mentoring men (as they ought to), so they are simply spread too thin to be effective – practically speaking.

But even more, the women who hold leadership/senior roles, today, are generally less diverse than their male counterparts  (see research posted here: The Facts | Women in Leadership | Canadian Women’s Foundation). As a result, it can be hard for women to find a good match in a female mentor.

So, I implore you, men, please mentor women. To get you started, I offer the following introductory tips:

1. Just do it!

2. In my view, the best mentorship relationships are formed in casual settings where trust and respect can be easily fostered, so if you would do it with a male mentee out of the office (e.g., lunch, sports games, going for a beer), please do it with your female mentee too.

3. Do not be afraid to be one-on-one with a female mentee. To my friend’s colleagues who fear boundary violation complaints: while I will not say that there could never be a false allegation (I am a lawyer after all), I am confident false accusations of boundary violations are less likely than getting in a tragic car accident. The risk is very low.

4. To assist with negativing any risk (as referenced in #3, above), do not seek romance with your colleagues. Your mentee is likely to look up to you. You may even think they are fawning over you, but do not be fooled, they likely just respect you and want to learn from you.

5. Enjoy having a platonic, important relationship with a woman.


About the Author

Renee Gagnon is a senior associate at Harper Grey LLP. She is a civil litigator with a focus on professional negligence and regulation. She is passionate about helping women advance in their careers. In her free time, she enjoys hitting the beaches or mountains to take in the views, or road biking around town.

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