Among Women Mentors: Their Impact on Me, and How Men Can Help

When I set out to write this piece, I began thinking about how I could use it to provide the most value for my women peers. I decided my time was best spent showing how women mentorship has been pivotal for shaping me and learning from the women I work with about how I, and other men, can provide better support for their women colleagues.

Starting from a point of reflection, I must first recognize how women have shaped my own life in powerful ways at every turn. My mother and one sister were naval officers who instilled a drive to serve the common good and that men don’t have a monopoly on leadership, grit, or sacrifice. My other sister is a prosecutor who received her law degree while raising my three nieces, showing me that no one was bound to chase one life goal (family, career, higher education, public service, etc.) at a time. Along the way, teachers, coaches, deacons and priests in my churches were women that informed my outlook on the world, educated me and gave me habits to keep me mentally and physically healthy. On Capitol Hill, I served as an intern under a woman deputy chief of staff and a woman intern supervisor, who gave me the skills to successfully start my career. My managers past and present, and many of my other mentors are the women who have made me the professional I am today.

I wanted to understand what actions men can take to support more and greater opportunities for women mentorship, and ways in which they can lift up the women in our lives. I asked several women in my workplace what actions men have taken that have been most impactful for them in the past. Conversations with women colleagues and mentors all arrived at the same starting place: listening. Here’s what else they shared:

  • Men who take on roles that involve note taking, agenda setting, event planning, spirit committees, etc. show that these roles are gender-neutral. This demonstrates that all work has value and counters the stereotype that only women can fill these roles. By jumping into these tasks, men can give women more time to embrace or focus on other opportunities, such as mentoring, leading accounts or chasing new business.
  • Giving due credit for good ideas and strong work both directly and publicly where others see it. It may seem obvious, but it’s frequently overlooked. Recognition can boost confidence and morale, showing your colleagues their contributions are valued and that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
  • Creating space for and supporting women and other marginalized voices is critical to not only making a meaningful difference but ensuring those individuals are heard. There are many great ways to do this. Don’t cut someone off, but if you do, return to them so they can share their piece. Do a round-robin session at the end of meetings for final thoughts. Even if there are no big ideas or questions to contribute, giving everyone a chance to share helps them feel like they’re a part of the team. Break through with your own voice and then offer the mic to your colleague so they have a direct opportunity to speak. Demand more diverse representation of women and minorities on panels as a price of your participation. Just say no to “manels.”
  • Sometimes, simply telling someone to advocate for themselves isn’t enough. Instead, work with your women colleagues on how they can develop strategies to effectively advocate for themselves. Then ask how you can support that approach to create more momentum for what they are trying to accomplish.
  • Misogynistic, patronizing or belittling talk—however harmless you may think it is or unintentional it may be—slips into conversations too easily. Watch for signs of discomfort from women colleagues and speak up. Use language about “parents” instead of singling out “moms” when talking about families, kids, school, or parental leave. Greet groups with a hello to “everyone” or “all,” rather than “guys,” etc.
  • Finally, always recognize that women colleagues are there for a reason. They know what they are doing, they have a role to play, and it’s not for you to decide what they can or cannot handle.

This is what I’ve learned from women mentors over the course of my life, and in just a few days discussing a few simple questions with colleagues. By encouraging men to adopt even some of these simple actions, continuing to ask how men can better support women in the workplace, and ensuring women have leadership opportunities and space to grow, organizations can reinforce and champion the progress women have achieved to date. Collectively, we can help shape and set the standards for future generations of employees. I hope you’ll join me.