By: Janet Bickel, MA, leadership and career development coach
Editor’s Note: For more of Ms. Bickel’s advice about how men can excel as mentors as women, read her recently published commentary, which will appear in the August print issue of Academic Medicine.
I’ve observed that most men in academic medicine have more successfully mentored men than women. Because few forum exist in which to raise gender-related questions (e.g. “How do you coach women who underestimate themselves?”), I offer the following tips:
- Recognize that people unconsciously tend to evaluate men and women differently: he’s “confident, analytic, authoritative, good at details, open.” For the same behaviors, she may well be labeled “conceited, cold, bossy, picky, unsure.” Bias of this nature interferes with women’s development of self-confidence and with the accurate evaluation of women.
- Internalizing limiting cultural messages, women tend to underestimate themselves. Be prepared to bolster a mentee’s belief that she can set and achieve big goals.
- Many women with tremendous potential have been discouraged from seeking developmental opportunities and have yet to “prove” themselves; they tend to view any setback as data that they are not worthy. Therefore, remind them of the evidence of the goals they already have achieved and consider other ways to support their development.
- Since women are much less likely than men to apply for jobs and promotions for which they’ve not met all of the qualifications, watch for opportunities to coach women to respond “I want to do that, and I’ll learn by doing” rather than “I’m not ready.”
- Avoid paternalistic assumptions, such as a woman with small children will be unable to take charge of something important.
- Assist women to expand their professional networks to increase their visibility and organizational savvy.
- Sponsor and nominate women for growth-promoting opportunities.
- When a woman does not take full advantage of your offer of professional support, rather than giving up on her, keep the door open and continue to offer encouragement.
- Perhaps, most importantly, ask a lot of open questions (e.g. “What, if anything, is holding you back from reaching your potential?”; “What areas of personal and professional growth do you most want to work on now?”; and “How can I help?”).
- Remember that your skill in handling gender-related differences will heighten the impact of your mentoring and will expand your legacy of positive influence.