Women’s Male Mentors

I’m a conservative woman in a conservative field.  My role model pool is overwhelmingly male.  Though I’ve no problem w/ social adjustments, my paltry femme connections in town are a far cry from the consistent estrogen fix I had in my sorority.  W/ the disclaimer that I’m admittedly something of a chauvinist, I find myself frequently homesick for women.

See first McKinsey’s rundown on sustainable female leadership.

Here is the more debateable piece.  It’s an article on women finding male mentors.  The article recommends female mentors for big-picture things, like mapping a career or returning from maternity leave, but keeping male mentors for surgical strikes like specific negotiations or closing a specific deal.

I get this.  I’ve always had male mentors.  I’ve had almost exclusively male mentors.  I’ve even dated male mentors.  Instinctively I agree, especially bc the authors frame their recommendation in such a way as to seek a father figure in the workplace.

I agree in practice, but w/ two important caveats.  First, beware the electra complex at work.  And second, keep relationships in mind.

The electra complex I’m warning about has nothing to do  w/ any tension between you and mentors — that’s beside the point.  More danger lies in the fact that work is all about practice, and we can only build on what we’ve practiced.  If we practice a near-coquettish, needy attitude of letting daddy — or mentor — do the heavy lifting, then that gets ensconced as a habit.  

Women (in my experience) have to find a very delicate balance between demure-to-passivity and Ann Coulter.  That balance might be the interpersonal skill we have to practice most to be effective at our jobs.  Now, I worked as a bartender for an uncomfortably long time.  I have  perfected the art of allowing men to decide that they should do my bidding.  Clearly reaching the bottles on the highest shelf and negotiating a deal are two distinct arts.  But as a woman and a chauvinist I take responsibility for policing the baseline for what men conclude women can — and, more importantly, cannot — do.  

Men are stastically better at skills like negotiating salaries because they are unabashedly aggressive.  Women chronically (statistically and anecdotally) undervalue themselves and are not as willing to self-promote.  My issue w/ the “seek male mentors” advice is only that I urge women seeking male mentors to recognize that we have a distinct set of skills that often go unrecognized.  I only ask that women do police that baseline and not allow — or encourage — men to assume that our wanting help doesn’t mean that we can’t cut it on our own.

Second, women’s major gender strength is relationship building.  Again I get the idea of keeping male mentors for surgical strikes like salary negotiations.  Men tend to play one match at a time.  But women (alright fine, I) need to maintain relationships so that when we need a bit of flexibilty for family down the road those powers at be will associate us with good work and a good attitude, not a series of migraines.  

This might actually bolster the father figure argument: Mr. Mentor can help do the heavy lifting relationship-oriented women are loath to do.  It’s just important to be aware of the trade-offs involved.  The skills we’ll learn from male mentors are important ones.  Remember: Their skills are different because men are less relationship-oriented in general.  Clearly I will always have (and love!) my male mentors.  I just keep in mind that I have to be aware of cultivating too coquettish an attitude, and that I am indeed paid to think.


















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