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.
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.