How to Effectively Mentor Women in Business

All young professionals could use a little help launching their careers, but especially women in business. The road to the C-suite is still practically unpaved because there are so few women role models. As a result, finding responsible advisers is crucial.

“Everyone should have mentors because they will often have a bigger vision for you than you have for yourself,” writes Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of LexION Capital Management LLC. “They help you dream bigger and can help you organize your thoughts to actualize those dreams.”

There’s lots of talk about the importance of mentors — no arguments there. There’s also a multitude of info on how to find your personal career Yoda. In the end, some will find a mentor organically, while others might be paired up by matchmakers from human resources or a third-party organization.

What is important now is discovering the best ways to help women get ahead. Since there are as many ways to mentor as there are mentors, we asked experts on the subject for some advice. Here are the most effective mentoring methods, according to them:

Assign homework
Stacia Pierce, life coach and CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises, holds group sessions in which participants answer a series of questions about their goals. Then, together, they develop a strategy for attaining them. Finally, they set deadlines to report progress and results. “When you hold people accountable for their actions, they become more apt to accomplish what they set out to do,” writes Pierce.

Serve as inspiration
One of the reasons women are reluctant to start a business or seek the CEO job is because few of their own have done those things. “Having visible, relatable role models of women in leadership positions is so important in helping women achieve C-suite roles,” writes Kaplan. She talks about her career progression at events and encourages networking among women, especially those seeking careers in finance. Showing up to panel discussions about your field or lecturing at local business schools are two great ways to be visible.

Share the good, the bad, and the ugly
Trying to attain goals in a high-pressure job (and aren’t they all high-pressure nowadays?) can be tough without a road map. People need to know they are not alone and that there are ways to overcome the impossible. That’s why there’s no room for sugarcoating your rise to the top. “My goal is to teach through sharing knowledge that I learned from being in the trenches as well as my failures and successes, and to provide direction when they are stuck or if a challenge arises,” writes Amanda Taylor, co-owner Performance Revealed, a business consulting group. In other words, talk to your mentees about your mistakes — the bad hires, going over budget, shying away from a good investment out of fear. You get the idea. Remember, these conversations can happen over coffee, on the phone, or even on video conference — whatever works for the two of you.

Let mentees shadow you
Shadowing is different from an internship. It means that someone is following you to see what a typical day in your world is like. It might only last a day or a week. Now, some experts argue that most company leaders deal with too much confidential information to allow for this, but there are ways around that. You can keep the mentee out of meetings, for example, to protect confidential info. The point is to show them the basics of what your day entails and have them get a taste of the perks and pressures of being in charge. “College courses can teach you a lot about theories and the basics of running a business but until you’re behind a desk, you don’t realize what sort of pressure you have to deal with day to day,” writes Deborah Sweeney, CEO of “Upset clients, employee relations, the threat of stagnation — these sorts of problems weigh heavily on one’s mind.” When people can see this for themselves, they can mentally prepare themselves for what is to come and gauge if they will be able to handle it.

Work on a project together
This is an especially good idea if you work in the same office as your mentee. Giving junior staffers a chance to do real work that could benefit the company helps them and you. It makes them feel like they have a stake in the organization, which is a great motivator. In turn, you’ll get their best work, and the chance to champion their name to your superiors. “Let your mentee shine, then give them full credit and more,” writes Scott C. Hammond, professor at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. If you are a man mentoring a woman, however, you should be careful to keep the relationship strictly professional, warns Hammond. That means no romantic involvement, always mentoring in full public view, and complete transparency. Unfortunately, people still sometimes get the wrong idea when a man tries to help a woman in a junior position, and you don’t want to muck up anyone’s reputation, he adds.

While it’s true that women have come a long way in business over the years, there’s still more work to be done. “We’ve learned to stand up for ourselves, whether that’s asking for better pay or more responsibility,” writes Becky Splitt, CEO of StudyBlue, a learning app for students. “However, we’re still missing a key ingredient to reaching gender equality in the workplace: learning to help each other.” Now is the time to change all that by offering some guidance.