Want women to succeed in the workplace? Help them find a mentor

Many of this year’s Top Workplaces emphasize mentoring in the workplace.
Many of this year’s Top Workplaces emphasize mentoring in the workplace. Pictured are Spoor Bunch Franz employees in St. Petersburg in February. [Scott Keeler | Times]
Many of this year’s Top Workplaces emphasize mentoring in the workplace. Pictured are Spoor Bunch Franz employees in St. Petersburg in February. [Scott Keeler | Times] [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
Published April 3, 2020|Updated April 3, 2020

Career plateaus, navigating tricky work situations, figuring out what skills it takes to get to the next professional level — a workplace mentor can be an effective guide through challenges such as these. But historically, such guides have been more readily available to men.

Often, that compounds workplace gender inequality.

“There’s still a need to give women equal opportunities," said Rebecca Lee Harris, economics instructor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “There’s still some discrimination, particularly against minority women.”

Read more: This accounting firm treats everyone like they’re part of the team

Mentorship is one way to overcome that. Employees with mentors are more likely to get promotions, a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found, while women in particular benefit from more social capital than men do if their mentor has a high status, a study from the University of California Haas School of Business found. Mentors can also teach soft skills that formal education misses, or show someone the ropes.

To capitalize on these benefits, several Top Workplaces have mentorship programs in place. Of the 29 Top Workplaces that provided responses to a question about mentoring they provide, particularly for women and people of color, 16 indicated they have some form of an in-house program. One relies on external organizations specifically for advancing women in the workplace, while nine said informal mentoring takes place.

Spoor Bunch Franz established a mentoring program to help employees grow in ways beyond what they learn from their day-to-day jobs.

“Since we’ve grown so quickly, there have been certain things we don’t have the time and resources to do,” said partner W.G. Spoor. Mentoring helps fill those gaps.

Once someone reaches six months with the firm, they are encouraged to select a more senior employee to mentor them. The mentorship pairs meet once a month to set specific goals, establish a plan to achieve them and discuss progress. After a year, they can decide if they would like to continue, shift goals or choose another pairing.

“That accountability you have between the mentor and the mentee is important,” Spoor said.

Read more: Top workplaces are built for good times and bad

One of Spoor’s three mentees, senior manager Julie Moore, said she joined the program to help her plan out the next year of her career. She chose Spoor because he aligned closest with her goals.

“The biggest thing is building even stronger relationships so people trust you and provide guidance not just at work, but (in) your personal life,” Moore said.

Other Top Workplaces, such as Seminole-based Resource Property Management, have similar pairings for development.

“We partner young managers with our executive team members for training and development purposes," said Cynthia Freda, executive vice president of human resources. "All staff is encouraged to avail themselves of our mentoring and reimbursement for further education.”

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Clearwater-based FairWarning has a “Women in Leadership” committee that meets monthly to look at “opportunities for advancement both personally and professionally.”

And Tampa’s Fintech specifically hires from its mentoring program for “future leaders.”

“We currently and historically have hired interns in key positions throughout our company,” said Cindy Zils, director of human resources, "which many times has led to full-time hires under the instruction and mentorship from our senior managers.”

Read more: Check out the 14 new Top Workplaces on the block

Others rely on external mentorship programs. Ruth Eckerd Hall employees, for example, are active in AchievHers and Working Women of Tampa Bay, two Tampa Bay programs that focus on networking and support for women in business.

“It is woven into our mission and activities to reach out and encourage diverse engagement,” said Ruth Eckerd Hall CEO Susan Crockett. “That includes employment opportunities.”

Shavon Lindley, CEO of California-based Ion Learning, helps companies establish mentorship programs. One of her company’s focuses is mentorship for women.

“We’re working with companies on deep cultural change,” she said. “We’re trying to create workplaces that work for everyone to develop the leaders that you want to work for (yourself).”

She recommends programs that last about six months to prevent fatigue for the mentors, establishing goals for each mentorship and creating specific topics for meetings and keeping mentor meetings to about an hour.

USF’s Harris said in the era of the Me Too movement, men in mentoring positions may be particularly aware of their behavior around women in the office. To prevent an over-correction where women are inadvertently pushed out of such programs, male mentors should emphasize treating all of their mentees equally.

“The smart male mentor is doing that for his male mentees as well as his female mentees so it doesn’t look like anyone is getting any favoritism on either side,” she said.