Taking the Next Step

Women in business

Women working together

Women account for 56 percent of undergraduate accounting majors and 36 percent of MBAs but only 9 percent of CFOs, and experts say the problem is that women lack the connections men make among each other informally. To counter this, companies have tried offering mentorship programs to increase and improve those connections to senior executives, but to mixed results–studies show men are still promoted more often then women after mentorship.

Some say the problem there is that men make connections with mentors informally, while women tend to go through formal programs. Men’s mentors behave more like sponsors than advisers, advocating for them to get jobs and being a more active influence on their mentee’s career.

For women, however, mentorships rarely lead to sponsorship. It is not likely an issue of discrimination, though, and more likely to be a comfort issue, according to Alison Quirk of State Street Corp., which has a strong record of promoting women. “There are more men in this network of relationships, and because of the similarities among men, they find natural connections with one another and they get to know one another better than perhaps a man and a woman might,” she says.

Executives should be encouraged to form more sponsorship-type relationships with women, and some companies are trying to do this through more intensive mentorship programs such as State Street’s Leading Women program. Women whose managers recommend them are paired with a female executive who mentors them for a year, giving them time to develop a more personal relationship.

Another strategy is to change hiring practices to consider a wider range of candidates rather than just those who are already in the networks of senior executives. Assigning someone to lead diversity initiatives can also help, as can diversity training that emphasizes the way diversity contributes to the business.

CFO (07/11) Segara, Marielle

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13 Responses to “Taking the Next Step”

  1. Rene Petrin says:

    Hi Mary,

    Nice article with good points. I would say that mentoring could be more effective for women if mentors were trained on the roles and responsibilities in mentoring as well as how to mentor someone who is diverse from you. Many programs have the right intention but don’t provide mentors and mentorees with the tools they need to manage expectations and achieve desired results. Training is one of those tools that is critical for a good mentoring outcome.


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