According to recent research, only 6 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. Whilst this statistic is not surprising, it highlights the huge inequality that still exists between men and women in the workplace. There are many benefits to improving gender diversity within business, including increased innovation, employee retention, and of course, financial success. Even so, women continue to be underrepresented and discriminated against in the workplace, indicating that practical steps need to be taken in order to ensure that female leadership within business becomes a long-term reality.
Introducing mentorship programmes within businesses, which specifically target women already in or entering the workforce, will enable them to advance their careers while simultaneously diversifying talents and encouraging entrepreneurial thinking. This type of support is useful whether it is conducted formally or informally and while systemic issues persist in traditionally male-dominated workplaces, there are significant indicators that mentorship is having a positive influence across a wide range of industries. Organisations that develop workplace mentorship programmes improve their employees’ skill sets, increase employee engagement, boost productivity, and lower attrition rates. To put it simply – mentorship benefits both employees and employers.
And it’s not just the business community that should be focusing on this – educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities also have a part to play in fostering mentorship skills early-on, so that women can move into the workplace or start their own businesses and achieve success.
With this in mind, at LSE Generate, we have been championing and promoting the adoption of mentorship through our “Mentorpreneurship” programme in partnership with OakNorth bank. The initiative is the first of its kind to engage past, current and future student entrepreneurs in a ‘life-cycle’ of mentoring and as part of the programme, and we’ve partnered with Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) to offer an entrepreneurship certificate course for children across a number of UK schools.
Since June last year 1,800 school children and undergraduates have participated, 500 of them having received mentoring so far. The goal is to hit 20,000 participants across 100 schools and universities by 2026. This ‘life-cycle’ mentorship model challenges traditional methods of mentoring by introducing reverse and peer to peer collaborations in order to question biases and encourage innovation. For example, participants are enabled to not only receive mentorship but also ‘mentor upwards’ – offering unique perspectives to senior leaders in business.
Furthermore, to support a wider pool of new and existing businesses, employees and entrepreneurs benefit from mentorship, we have also recently launched a new Certificate in Mentorship – which looks to break new ground by providing formal training and recognition to aspiring mentors, through the knowledge and experience of the existing LSE network.
Mentorship that begins in school and continues throughout all stages of a person’s career and business has the extra benefit of instilling traits like resilience and adaptability, as well as problem-solving and communication skills, from an early age. Anyone who wants to establish their own business or advance into a leadership position must learn how to bounce back from setbacks, take chances, and deal with failure.
Traditional ‘top-down’ mentorship methods can be blended with innovative practices like reverse and peer-to-peer mentoring to promote creativity and approach problems in a fresh way. However, there needs to be great importance placed on flexibility, it is extremely essential when it comes to entrepreneurship, that the style of mentorship should match the participants’ goals and requirements, while also encouraging transparency, honesty, and trust.
Many organisations and industries have a considerable deficit of women in leadership roles and therefore female mentors, who function as role models for other employees rising up through the ranks, are needed more than ever. Due to this gender inequality in the workplace, women can often feel isolated and offering mentorship programmes provides these employees with the support and encouragement needed in order to develop in their roles. Furthermore, when women are given the opportunity to mentor, they are able to hone leadership qualities, as well as the practical skills needed to advocate for themselves.
When it comes to the topic of gender inequality in the workplace, many people know the issues surrounding this, but now we must turn the focus to the benefits of gender diversity in business. The time has come where it is now crucial to put theory into practice and create programmes and initiatives that will have a lasting impact and enable tomorrow’s female leaders to thrive. Mentorship has a huge role to play in achieving this, and it’s never too late, or early, to begin.
Laura-Jane Silverman, Head of LSE Generate the entrepreneurship hub at The London School of Economics. LJ Silverman