Excelling in a chosen profession is challenging. A good education, talent, and perseverance are all important for a successful career but thriving in the business world inevitably means navigating new experiences and challenges. Professional mentorship is the compass by which business leaders plot their course.
This is particularly true for female professionals. A mentor with a woman-to-woman perspective can nurture a sense of awareness, empowerment, and alliance-building that can influence your relationship with other women.
More women than ever now take their rightful places as business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. Even so, according to a recent survey, only 54% of men believe their company has improved gender diversity in the last five years, while just 43% of women do.
Systemically, women face roadblocks and challenges having nothing to do with their ability. In fact, a woman’s strengths—such as empathy and collaboration, for instance—are often used against them.
The Challenges Women Face
There is no shortage of articles listing the many challenges that women face in their careers. Reviewing just a few of these challenges underscores the value of woman-to-woman mentoring.
Building alliances: In many industries, such as the technology industry, it’s a boy’s club. This pervasive mindset in some areas of the business world can make it difficult for women seeking admission into the club.
- Negotiating your worth: The good news is that the gender pay gap is narrowing. But disparity still exists. It can add up to nearly one million dollars over the course of a career. Women must first negotiate their right to work as equal partners with their male counterparts and then for equal pay doing so.
- Harassment—sexual and otherwise: Harassment in the workplace, especially sexual harassment, is humiliating and demeaning. Feelings of guilt and powerlessness often accompany the experience. The perpetrator may go unpunished even if an official complaint is made. While this, too, is changing, it is not changing nearly fast enough. The evolving attitudes toward sexual harassment and abuse come largely from women supporting women, forcing a conversation within society as a whole.
- The double bind of leadership: It’s a catch-22 for female leaders. Take a collaborative, conciliatory approach to leadership and you’re seen as ineffective. Take a firm top-down approach and you may be considered competent, but not very likable.
- Motherhood: When a woman becomes a mother should not preclude reaching her potential as a leader, entrepreneur, or professional. Discrimination due to pregnancy is illegal. Yet it persists. “Despite the passage of a law prohibiting pregnancy discrimination 40 years ago,” says an article in the New York Times, “claims of discrimination remain widespread.”
Women face singular demands, misperceptions, disparities, and often outright abuse in the business world. Being female in a “man’s world” can feel isolating. That’s why woman-to-woman mentoring can be so important and valuable.
Female leaders serve as examples for everyone and personal inspiration for the women they mentor. They help shine a light for others to follow. The mentor-mentee relationship is arguably among the most important partnerships that female professionals make in their careers.
The mentee eventually becomes a mentor, a continuing cycle creating powerful networks, fostering opportunity, and breaking down barriers. These are driving principles in professional mentorship, and when they are practiced by and for women, female leaders emerge, benefiting all sectors of the economy.
Women in Leadership
The online Women in Leadership Business Certificate program from the Kelley School of Business is designed for female leaders ready to move their careers to the next level. In a collaborative, supportive environment, the program takes on the realities of professional women in business.
The curriculum consists of four courses:
- Leadership and Self-Awareness
- Women and the Double Bind of Leadership
- Effective Communication for Women
- Negotiation for Women
Each course lasts three weeks. Students can complete the full certificate program in four months or choose individual courses to suit their specific needs. The certificate fits well in corporate talent development efforts for women with greater leadership aspirations and potential
Graduates of the program enhance their leadership skills and gain a better understanding of the challenges they face. They may go on to help other women through professional mentorship informed by skills they have learned at the Kelley School of Business:
- Increased self-awareness of their value. They developed a personal profile in the program that highlights their strengths and areas for improvement as they take on more leadership roles.
- Learning to bridge the communication gap through a clearer understanding of the ways that women and men often differ in their thinking and approach.
- Overcoming the challenge of the double-bind of leadership, mastering strategies to build trust, establish executive leadership, and enhance personal credibility.
- Building alliances using the give-and-take strategies inherent in successful group coaching.
Students who completed the course expressed the value of connecting with other women.
One student said, “I am very happy that I have the opportunity to take this class. Connecting with peers and other women is just what I need both from an educational standpoint, and also professionally and personally.”
Another expressed the benefits of speaking with other women about shared challenges. “Women in leadership roles face many challenges. This is the first time I have felt I was in a ‘safe place’ to discuss those challenges, be heard, and realize that we all silently work through the same challenges as women in the workplace. Carolyn is a phenomenal instructor who helps pull it all together and discusses paths to help break the pattern set before us.”
Women bring to the table a mindset of leadership that, when allowed to flourish, can unify, focus, and bring together people and resources.
Professional mentorship and women supporting women are key to women working through the challenges they face and opening up their full potential as leaders and change makers.