If you plan to be a leading organisation in 2017 with diversity of thinking at the executive level and a strong pipeline for growth, now is the time to implement change to make it happen.

The research is clear. The business case has been made. Yet according to the latest research by EY Australia, only 20% of companies reviewed have set up structured programs to increase numbers of women at the top.

Mentoring is one of the strategies that can change the figures and drive cultural change. Effective programs successfully retain and develop talented aspiring female leaders.

For example, 67% of women in a formal mentoring program at a top tier law firm were promoted to partner. 63% at an ASX listed company on a gender diversity mentoring program for senior women were promoted.[1] While the NRL has seen a substantial shift in numbers of female staff and team executives through its mentoring initiatives.

The latest Harvard Business Review report on programs to boost diversity in the workplace also sites mentoring as one of the top initiatives that can strengthen the pipeline. It says the programs that work don’t ‘teach or train’ but engage. They get active involvement from the top and encourage social accountability to be part of the solution.

Mentoring works because it allows emerging leaders to test ideas, gain fresh perspectives and seek experienced counsel on leadership, career and performance.  It helps promote women by boosting confidence, exposing emerging talented to senior executives and encouraging them to take risks with their careers and responsibility for their own progression.

Jetstar’s Chief Pilot Captain Georgina Sutton – only the second female chief pilot in the world – was selected for a mentoring program in her role as a senior Qantas Captain and says her mentor was invaluable in increasing her confidence and providing honest, candid advice to help her progress. She now strongly advocates the support of programs for women to enter leadership, particularly if they haven’t envisaged it for themselves.

Another senior manager on our program agreed, “mentoring gave me the courage and confidence to challenge the status quo and take risks and achieve beyond my wildest dreams”

They are not alone. Many business leaders, including our female mentors now sitting on some of Australia’s top company’s executive and board tables, advocate the value of mentoring to get ahead.

For maximum impact, a structured program with careful planning, good design and clarity of purpose is recommended.

In our experience, the program should be positioned as an initiative to support talented female participants. It should be championed from the top, matches carefully considered and clear parameters set to encourage engagement and commitment.

Formally connecting the mentee/mentor can also be an important part of its success. Women are statistically less inclined to approach potential mentors on their own and the recent Harvard Business Review’s research report suggests male executives feel uncomfortable reaching out informally to young women, yet are eager to mentor formally assigned protégés, whoever they may be.

In addition, connecting select women with experienced mentors within a program not only demonstrates the value the organisation places on them but validates the importance of focusing on their own career progression. It also creates a professional relationship that adds accountability and the required commitment to learn and grow.

Of course, other factors such as sponsorship, cultural change, increased flexibility and unconscious bias are all important parts of long term change.

Mentoring is certainly not the only solution but it can be an effective, cost-effective piece of the puzzle. It’s great to see all the discussions taking place but the figures make it clear we need to take action and implement the right initiatives to make it happen.

Don’t just hope it happens organically. It won’t.

 1] Results from McCarthy Mentoring Emerging Leader 12 month programs

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