Management · April 22, 2021

Women Mentoring Women: Tips for Building an Effective Mentorship Program

According to a recent McKinsey study, changes in the workforce brought about by the COVID-19 crisis stand to set women's progress in the workforce back more than half a decade. More than 25% of women—and 33% of mothers—are considering pausing their careers or leaving the workforce altogether due to increasing family care and other obligations, creating a potential drought of women in leadership. With women mentoring women, however, many of these setbacks can be mitigated before they take hold long term.

Here's how to start a women's mentoring program at your company—and why you should.


The Merits of Women Mentoring Women

Even if you feel your company is doing well with women in leadership positions, a structured mentorship program can add value throughout your organization.

It's important for women to see women in positions they want to hold. Mentoring programs give women in entry-level positions the opportunity to build trusted relationships with women who have worked their way up.

Mentoring programs can boost talent recruitment and retention. When women see pathways for advancement, including support such as mentoring, it's easier to recruit women candidates and build a more diverse talent base. According to a Chronus report, when women make up more than 50% of a team, the team's collective intelligence tends to rise above average.

Mentorships also support critical skill development. Many important skills women need in the workplace, including networking, negotiating and exchanging constructive feedback, aren't usually skills you get when you first enter the workforce. Women can learn these skills from more experienced women and have a safe space to ask questions and talk through challenges as they arise.

Mentorship Program Best Practices

Effective mentoring programs are those with clear leadership, design and accountability. Building these traits into your program structure will ensure that it stays up to par and delivers consistent value to your team.

Leadership

Make sure your mentorship program has a clear leadership team defining and supporting the program's mission. These leaders can come from any part of your organization, but should involve your human resources department to ensure compliance with applicable legal requirements. Leadership will also be accountable for driving the program's annual goals and reporting results to company leadership.

Make sure that leadership positions aren't just held by senior management. Having program leadership that represents an array of roles can help ensure that women throughout the organization have their experiences reflected in major program decisions.

Encourage your program leaders to create reasonable goals from the start. Be audacious, but recognize that mentoring takes time beyond day-to-day job functions. There's no shame in accomplishing more than you envisioned and building bigger goals for the years ahead. With a successful program, you might even attract new leaders to join your team and realize a more ambitious vision.

Mentoring Program Design

To build the most inclusive program, seek volunteers throughout your organization to form a task force. These volunteers can weigh in on your program's structure, suggest changes and establish processes to identify and match mentor and mentee candidates. Don't forget to include a feedback system so that mentors and mentees can offer suggestions to continuously enhance the program and improve results for the next round of participants.

Be sure to include an array of structured group and individual activities. These activities can help both mentors and mentees forge better relationships and build their networks, two skills essential to women's advancement in the workplace.

Ask for volunteers for both mentors and mentees as your program begins. Consider creating a short application for each to assess why they want to be involved and what they hope to gain from the mentor-mentee relationship. As your program grows, adjust the application to become more robust. This helps narrow down potential candidates and assigns the best pairing for each relationship.

Tracking Mentorship ROI

The best programs for women mentoring women empower—and are empowered by—both leadership and participants. Building accountability into your program's culture can help ensure total ownership from every role involved.

First, establish a transparency policy. This includes publishing the program's goals, guidelines and paths for feedback—both public and private. The policy should also include annual program results and reporting for the company and company leadership.

Finally, determine regular review schedules to ensure all parties are keeping up with their commitments. Both mentors and mentees should be required to report to each other and leadership on their progress.

Your curiosity is the first step toward creating a workplace that brings women in, lifts them up and builds a culture where their voices, experiences and value are both nurtured and respected. By working closely with your team and trusted business partners, you can tailor your women's mentoring program to suit the needs of your employees and your company.

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