Why Mentoring Helps Men More Than Women

Last Updated Mar 25, 2011 3:18 PM EDT


The biggest companies are awash in mentoring programs aimed at helping high-potential employees, particularly women, succeed. A good mentor is supposed to provide career advice, give feedback on how to improve performance, help provide access to important networks and show mentees how to navigate corporate politics.

But research from the non-profit group Catalyst shows that while both men and women gain by having a mentor, men benefit more. Part of this may be due to the people that men choose as mentors and part of it may be because of what those mentors actually do.

The study on mentoring and high-potential MBA grads suggests that the most effective mentors go well beyond the typical description of mentoring, morphing into 'sponsors' who actively lobby to get 'their' high-potential people promoted or slotted into high-visibility positions. It's interesting that many corporate mentoring programs actively try to discourage this, choosing mentors that work in different departments or lines of business that are far removed from their mentees.

Who Benefits from Mentoring?
Having a mentor, especially one at the CEO or senior executive level, led both men and women to get more promotions and more pay. But it didn't do much to narrow the gap between men and women on either of these measures.
  • Having a mentor helped both men and women. Men who had a mentor were 93 percent more likely than men without a mentor to get their first post-MBA job at mid-manager level or above. Women with a mentor were 56 percent more likely than women without a mentor to get their first post-MBA job at mid-management or above.
  • Having a mentor raised a man's salary (again, in his first post-MBA job) by $9,260.
  • Having a mentor raised a woman's salary in her first post-MBA job by only $661.
  • You're more likely to get a big bump in salary if you have a mentor higher up the ladder. This sounds obvious, but women are much less likely than men to have mentors in senior executive positions. Men's mentors tend to be male, and therefore higher up the corporate ladder, than women's mentors, who are more likely to be female.
  • Women should seek out mentors who are at the CEO or senior executive level. Some 62 percent of men had a mentor at the CEO or senior executive level, compared to 52 percent of women. Men's mentors were more senior than women's even after controlling for the job level of the mentee. Some 91 percent of men had male mentors, but only 9 percent of female mentors had male mentors. Some 65 percent of high-women women had male mentors, and 35 percent of high-potential women had female mentors.
And if you don't believe a wage gap exists between men and women, consider this:
  • For men, each promotion from their 2008 job during the years tracked by the study amounted to an extra 21 percent in compensation.
  • For women, each promotion from their 2008 job amounted to only an extra 2 percent in compensation.
Has a mentor helped you in your career? If so, how?

RELATED Photo courtesy flickr user country_boy_shane
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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