Mentorship in the World of #MeToo

Mentorship plays a crucial part in a person’s career progression. It is a special and meaningful relationship in which an experienced or knowledgeable person, over a sustained period, imparts guidance and support to someone in a junior position. It is an arrangement that focuses on the mentee and their development.

A central element of mentorship is regular, one-to-one interaction and, as such, close personal bonds develop between the mentor and the mentee. Mentorship relationships can take many forms and can be formal or informal arrangements. Within these relationships, the mentee gets the opportunity to gain valuable experience and insights, develop their confidence, learn new skills and potentially climb the career ladder to take on senior positions.

An alarming and unfortunate by-product of the #MeToo movement has been the suggestion that fear of false sexual harassment allegations may result in a growing divide between men and women in the workplace. With non-financial misconduct being considered as part of a person’s fitness and propriety under the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SM&CR), there is a risk that some men may take an over cautious approach in their dealings with women. This may result in senior male managers being reluctant to provide mentorship to younger, female colleagues.

This may sound like an ‘over the top’ or hysterical reaction but it seems that this is becoming an issue of concern. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that senior male managers are becoming increasingly reticent over mentoring female colleagues out of fear that false allegations could be levelled at them, while, the international news agency Bloomberg has published an article with the provocative headline ‘Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost’.

The suggestion is that male employees have become fearful of working alone with female colleagues or accompanying them on business trips or social activities, such as after-work drinks or dinners. If true, this is hugely problematic and risks the marginalisation of women in the workplace, subtle discrimination, and the emergence or reinforcement of ‘boy’s clubs’. This unfounded apprehension risks damaging women’s careers and creating unnecessary division.

As reported in Lisa Powell’s article concerning the gender pay gap, there remains a notable discrepancy between the pay of men and women in the financial services and insurance sector, largely due to women not holding senior positions. There are many factors behind this, but it seems clear that for equality to be realised within the sector, younger women should be provided with the same level of support and opportunity as their male colleagues.

To help bridge the pay gap, women need to get into higher paid jobs. A key part of anyone’s career progression is good mentorship and, as many senior positions in the financial services sector are held by men, it is important that women benefit from mentorship in the same way that their male colleagues do.

Male managers should not be afraid to provide mentorship for junior colleagues, male or female. It can be a rewarding process for both the mentor and the mentee. It is important, however, that this is carried out professionally, equally and transparently. There should not be double standards in how the mentorship relationship is conducted. The reality is that most men are not sexual predators and most women do not make false accusations. Men and women are quite capable of working together in a professional manner, with mutual respect.

New regulation and the increased attention on gender equality and anti-harassment laws are not things that most people need to worry about. It’s just about common sense and common courtesy. Mentorship relationships, when conducted properly, can be valuable for both parties. Don’t let misunderstanding or misplaced fear get in the way.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

Get RWA Insight In Your Inbox

Regular business news and commentary delivered direct to your inbox each week. Sign up here