The idea that women function poorly in positions of power is deeply embedded within our society, and can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. One really powerful way to give back and feel good about yourself is to mentor and support other women.
Catherine Fox, award-winning journalist and author of Stop Fixing Women and co-author of Women Kind, explains how mentoring can make the world a better place. She writes …
Women are actually wonderful mentors. The idea of the Queen Bee, or women turning on each other — especially in the workplace — is a story we’re told to keep us away from positions of power, but there is actually very little evidence for it.
Women self-select into support groups all the time. Which absolutely contradicts the idea that we’re somehow not good at it. The #metoo and #celebratingwomen campaigns have been all about this; women coming together and backing each other up to take a stand. They’re not making this stuff up. It’s great to see women working together and calling injustices out. Importantly, the emphasis is on doing things collectively.
By and large, women often do have a fantastic network of friends, colleagues, other women and people they’ve met through all parts of their life who help and support them.
“Women stepping up definitely has an effect. It’s life sustaining.”
There is a huge sense of purpose and value that comes from supporting others, particularly younger women. Women have been doing it forever, but it would be great to see more of it. I’m not talking about women being faulty in some way or needing to be fixed — women have been on the margins of power for too long, battling stereotypes and systemic bias, and they’re often penalised if they don’t conform to classic stereotypes of caring and empathy. But this is not a legacy of gender, it’s one of power.
There were a number of women in the first administration of U.S. president Barack Obama who had an idea for supporting other women. They decided to back each other up in meetings, so there wasn’t a chance for them to be interrupted or their contributions ignored. They called this idea ‘amplification’, and congratulated each other publicly when they did good work. Women stepping up definitely has an effect. It’s life sustaining.
It’s incredibly important for everyone to seek advice and get inspired by other people we can see doing well, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be someone more senior than you. You can get real assistance and value by having a peer mentoring system, which is also useful.
I’m an optimist. I think things are changing. Partly through social media, which is the last thing we’ve expected. I casually mentor people, but have also personally benefited from other women stepping up to help me.
Often as mentor, the most important role is to offer a different perspective, and simply ask: Have you thought about this? Because when you’re immersed in the daily grind it’s not always clear.
Being able to do that for someone else is enormously fulfilling. I have three daughters and try to help them in that way all the time. It’s about getting to know someone, understanding them and encouraging them to think differently.
This is an extract from The Power Age, A Celebration of Life’s Second Act by Kelly Doust ($39.95), Murdoch Books.