Sunday, February 10, 2008

Women & Mentoring

In preparing for the first discussion group, I've been doing a bit of research on the topic of mentoring. One resource I went to was Wikipedia, which does indeed have an entry for Mentoring. What struck me was when I read through their list of famous mentor-protege pairs, was the lack of female names. In fact in the list of 23 pairs, only one woman appears - Diana Ross as the mentor to Michael Jackson. Here's the link if you'd like to review the article yourself

My first response to the lack of women's names was to be outraged. How could women be left off the list. Why I can think of dozens of examples. How could they overlook ... um ... But there's ...

I'm ashamed to admit that I couldn't think of any examples off the top of my head. I went through all the famous women I could think of and tried to come up with her mentor and came up blank. I then tried to think of who these famous women had mentored and also came up blank.

Why is this? In doing research I've come across the perception that successful women are perceived as not doing enough to help and mentor the women coming up behind them. Theories about why this is so abound. Successful women feel like they had to make it on their own, so others should too. Women feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness. Successful women don't want to be perceived as giving preference to other women. Women tend to have more responsibilities outside of work than their male counterparts and so just not enough time to take on a protege. Women aren't as secure in their success as their male counterparts and may feel threatened by a younger protege. In choosing a mentor, do women gravitate toward men since they see them as holding the "real power"?

Then there is the other side of the coin. Often men are afraid to mentor women because they are afraid that the relationship will be seen as more than just professional.

What impact does this have? Well since we're Women & Hi Tech, lets look at achievements in Science & Technology. Since 1901 only 12 women have won a Nobel Prize in science. During that time a total of 519 prizes were awarded. Two women have won the Nobel Prize for Physics; the last one was awarded Marie Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. Three women have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry; the last one was awarded to Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964. Seven women have won the Nobel Prize for Medicine; the last one was awarded to Linda Buck in 2004. Of note, no woman has ever won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

As of 2007, only 13 women were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Only 1 woman, Angela Braly, was the CEO of a Fortune 50 company. According the the US Department of Labor, only 6% of for profit board positions are held by women.

Is lack of mentoring the only reason? Probably not, but I'm guessing that it is a contributing factor. When I ask the question, "do you have a mentor?", most women I talk to say no. How do we change this?

I also have a challenge. Let's do some research and add some women's names to the list of famous mentor-protege pairs on Wikipedia. Let's change this perception of women and mentoring!

Please share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions. Post them here or come to one of the discussion sessions.

More to come.


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