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Who’s a Better Mentor? Men or Women

I’ve gotten a slew of emails about my Good Morning America segment from earlier this week on a new Catalyst study that found while men and women find mentors equally, men are more likely to have mentors who hold more senior positions.

Why should we care? Because it costs women big-time in pay and promotions.

Men with mentors earn bigger and more frequent promotions and accompanying pay raises than women with mentors, presumably because the men’s mentors have more clout and are greater champions of their mentees. On average, the men with mentors received a whopping 21% more in compensation tied to their promotions, compared to 2% for women with mentors.

What can we do about it?

Find a champion, not just a mentor. Typically we envision a mentor as our sounding board, someone with whom with can have candid conversations for advice and feedback. It’s the person who may teach us the unspoken rules.

While that has tremendous value, it doesn’t necessarily make us more money. If we want to make more money and advance more quickly, women need sponsors—champions—someone with clout who’ll use some political capital to speak up on our behalf when there’s an opening or opportunity.

Stop assuming your good work will be noticed. This is a classic mistake women make. We bury our heads and we think if we just do a good job, someone will tap us on the shoulder with that raise and promotion. The job fairy doesn’t exist; she’s not coming. It’s up to us to take ownership of our self-directed career advancement, which includes tooting our horns, marketing our results and making our desires for advancement known.

Find opportunities to connect with senior leaders. One of the ways to do just that is to seek out opportunities to connect with senior people or those with influence so they know who you are and the value you possess. Ask to be included in meetings. Attend company-wide events and introduce yourself. Proactively promote the results you’re delivering. Ask someone who leads the department you aspire to join if you can have 10 minutes of his or her time to introduce yourself and share your ideas. Connect with leaders in your industry through professional associations. Take on a visible role within the group.

Then don’t assume, “If he or she could help me, I know they will.” Instead, ask directly: “Can I count on you to champion my advancement?” Share your specific goals—“Here’s the job I’d like, here’s the course I want to pursue.”—and secure their support.

Focus on seniority above gender. Most people have very strong opinions based on personal experiences as to whether women or men are better advocates for promoting women. Some will say men have a bias against women and they’re more loyal to that old boys club. While women, they’ll claim, are jealous and won’t stick their neck out for another gal. That debate rages on.

Catalyst found that gender wasn’t relevant, but seniority was. And since there are more men in senior positions, it’s very likely that our best champions may very well be men.

Tell us about your mentor. Is it someone who offers advice or do you have someone who’ll go to bat for your success? Share your situation.


  1. Judi Mitti

    I worked for a company for over fourteen years and thought that after years of not being heard I had found my mentor. Not I was let go for reasons that were so trumped up that I was not allowed to even defend myself. I made the mistake of trusting the President and CEO of the Corporation I worked for and they basiclly set me up to fail. I was the General Manager of a small company that I approached them to start in the early 90’s the group survived in spite of itself and was handed over to a man that I hired four month before my demise. So it is difficult to trust MEN in the business world when they both siad they would support me they let me down. The main office was in LA and the divison was here in Michigan. Now I am lookinfg for work and to start my own business in the spring.

  2. HK

    My mentor was male and for the most part,the best advice and support I ever received in my career came from male supervisors. The best boss I ever had would chastise you face to face if you were wrong but would always go to bat for you if convinced you were in the right and had been unfairly treated. It was a shame that I was less fortunate when it came to female bosses;maybe it was due to a lack of confidence or insecurity related to their relationships with their direct reports. Right or wrong, they always looked out for their own interests.

  3. Robert Becker

    I like the find a champion idea, yes the champion should be a mentor, a mentor that is not a champion is not worth much. Of course remember that you should be your best champion, but having one high up surely is a good thing!

    I did worry when I started re:SourceMoms (previousely MomPower) that being a man helping out the Moms would not be as good as a women heading this company but ultimately it should not matter.

    As usual Tory, an interesting read!

  4. JH

    I am a female but my two most effective mentors have been male. They allowed me to learn, trusted me with important information and championed my advancement. In a later career change, I aligned myself with two different female “mentors” only to realize they were only worried about their own agenda, which had nothing to do with me. I’ll think twice next time.

  5. Great post! I definitely think that it is important for women to follow all of these tips to find mentors.

  6. leigh

    I agree, the worst stab you in the back junk has come from females in the workplace throughout my work history. Men might be in your face, but if you stand up and present fact, I have found they will be allies. I prefer to work with males, for males and bypass females as they can’t get past personality issues and their own agendas! And if you are a good looking female, forget it with a female superior, they will go out of their way to get you out for NO reason.

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