Why Male Mentors Can Benefit Women in Tech

No one questions the value of female mentors for women in technology. Their career moves and personal perspective are needed to inspire and educate the relatively small number of women in the sector. But many women don’t realize that having a male mentor can be valuable, as well.

Male MentorFor close to a decade, the number of women in IT has stagnated, remaining at a quarter of the technology workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares to the nearly 50 percent women in the overall civilian workforce. According to Anandhi Bharadwaj, professor of information systems and operations management at Emory University, the number of men compared to women in tech makes it imperative that female IT professionals seek out male mentors.

Since men seem to move much more quickly from position to position than their female counterparts, women can benefit from the larger network that men can open up to them. “The first person to get passed over for a promotion or to be laid off is the one without the mentor and access to a strong and wide network,” Bharadwaj says. “You have to get both women and male mentors who can look out for you on the job. But they also need to help you be relevant and get you ready for the next promotion.”

A Different Perspective

Tapping into the wider network that male mentors can offer just makes sense, adds Ekaterina Walter, co-founder and CMO of BRANDERATI and author of The Wall Street Journal bestseller Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg. By tapping into that wider network, women get insight into how their male colleagues think and advance. “They know how to play the game, and they can help you navigate those waters and will tell you how other male executives think,” Walter explains.

Male mentors may also approach work in a different manner than their female counterparts. “While it’s not a blanket statement, men do have a different approach to problem solving,” Walters says. But she doesn’t discount the notion of having female mentors, as well. “Both agendas have amazing things to offer. It’s not a secret, but our minds sometimes work differently.”

Getting Beyond Stereotypes

Having male mentors also provides insight into how men perceive women in the workplace. Phyllis Kolmus, president of the advocacy group Women in Technology and deputy group director at AT&T Government Solutions, believes it’s wise to get beyond the stereotypes and understand the male point of view to overcome workplace prejudice. While that doesn’t mean that discrimination and bias don’t exist, the value of getting into the minds of your male colleagues shouldn’t be discounted. “You need female and male mentors,” she says. “All of the studies show that companies benefit from diversity, and people benefit from diversity, too. If you exclude half the population as mentors, you’ve lost a lot of that potential.”

What to Look for in a Mentor

Of course, a mentor’s gender may be less important than their approach and willingness to help junior colleagues. It’s always good to seek out someone who is a role model, even if that mentor is a man, Kolmus believes. “Look for someone who is doing what you want to be doing or working in a way that resonates with you,” she says. “You need someone you have good chemistry with.”

Male mentors also learn a ton from their women mentees. In the long run that, too, benefits women in tech. “There’s an unplanned benefit when you engage a male mentor,” says Kolmus. “You open their eyes when you share your experiences. Men can be biased and they don’t always realize it.”

“We’re not only learning from them,” she adds. “They’re learning from us. It can change the world for us.”

4 Responses to “Why Male Mentors Can Benefit Women in Tech”

  1. From what source is the data being collected, and who is collecting the data that suggests men seem to move much more quickly from position to position than their female counterparts? What positions are the men moving to? Do the female counterparts want the positions the men are moving to? Promotions in any field of study are based on skill level and who you know. I doubt very seriously it has anything to do with mentoring, especially since most “jobs” do not have mentors. If a person is lucky enough to get hired, the person must come in knowing how to do almost all things or get replaced quickly. Mentoring would be an excellent way to train recent college graduates, and allow them to improve their knowledge and skills they acquired inside of a classroom, although most companies and organizations will not hire anyone who has less than 3 years of experience. And furthermore, there is no guarantee a female counterpart will be able to tap into the good-old-boys network. If there is a strong alliance among members of a click in an organization, more than likely, a male or female will not be tapping into that network of individuals easily for promotional reasons regardless of skill level and knowledge.

    Last and final thought: mentoring is a great idea and should be implemented in all work environments.

  2. This is insulting, and blames women for not being more like men! Ridiculous! Men don’t have some kind of supernatural ability to get promoted. They simply deny promotions to women.

  3. Nonsense. There isn’t an IT firm in the country that isn’t desperate to hire women into somewhere besides HR. There’s something about the field that repels women, and it’s not some testosterone fueled conspiracy hatched over Foosball and Star Trek reruns. In some 30 years I’ve known a handful of female programmers and exactly three female sysadmins. It’s got nothing to do with co-worker’s attitudes – this culture is a meritocracy and if you know your stuff you become Alpha Geek, simple as that. You don’t see that many female technical managers because there aren’t that many female tchies to promote (although there’s a higher percentage of female managers because you can be hired directly into those spots and people skills are more important than how many languages you can write hello world in).
    Which might be the real reason behind all the complaint. It’s a proven fact that women prefer work that deals with people. It’s also empiricaly true (at least) that most truly skillful techno-geeks don’t want to deal with anything that doesn’t have a keyboard attached, or at least a serial port. I’ve got a news flash for ya: men and women are different, and the way it turns out in the end isn’t always due to the evil patriarchy destroying women’s hopes and dreams yet again. Fact is, not that many women like to configure routers or read core dumps. The ones who do make quick professional progress exactly because of their uniqely (more or less) female gifts of interpersonal agility, efficient multitasking, and desire for consensus. Anyone who says that the lack of female IT managers is due to some external agency such as discrimination is making a basic statistical error: there are fewer of class A’ because there are fewer of class A, not because A’s don’t become A primes.

  4. Jane Highwater

    As a female in the IT world,I’ve found finding a man willing to mentor a woman is impossible .In over 20 years, I’ve never seen it occur.
    My work requires me to know a little bit about everything. Often, I’ve found men reluctant to explain even simple operations to me, while willingly sharing information, cross- training, and supporting one another. In situations where I’ve supervised people, I’ve found that when I have to be tough with someone, the situation is interpreted as something personal I have against the person rather than me doing my job. Men in the same situation would be lauded for being firm managers. The biases against women and the boys’ club lives on.