May 18 2014
Carrie L. Lukas
What role should gender play — if any — in workplace mentoring? Here are two points of view.
Americans are regularly told that too few women are fulfilling their career potential, by joining corporate boards or becoming CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Mentoring programs are among the solutions advanced for this purported problem.
Mentoring programs can be a positive force and assist some professional women in advancing their careers. That's why there are already numerous national organizations, as well as myriad government and university-based programs dedicated to supporting women's careers.
Yet ultimately, we should move beyond this fixation on gender differences in the workplace. We want people — women and men alike — to be encouraged to pursue their dreams, whether they aspire to run a company, launch a small business or prioritize family life as their primary calling.
Politicians obsess about aggregate differences in the outcomes of men and women as groups, but people should understand that those statistics are driven by the different choices made by millions of individual human beings. Surveys consistently show men and women (particularly those with children) generally have different goals for their careers. For example, in a 2013 report, the Pew Research Center found that while 75 percent of fathers with children under 18 saw full-time work as their ideal, just 32 percent of mothers preferred full-time jobs. Forty percent of working fathers said "high pay" was important, compared to 30 percent of working mothers.
These different attitudes are not problems that must be solved, but are priorities that deserve our respect.
Some women may welcome the opportunity for additional mentoring, but others may find the notion a little patronizing. Women don't all need extra help. There are plenty of go-getter women who are creating their own networks and charging up the ladder just fine without attending a seminar. This constant call for additional support and protection for women may inadvertently feed the tired notion of women as the "weaker sex" that requires allowances in the corporate world.
Such women might also note that there are plenty of men in greater need of extra help. Our economy is increasingly geared to education and communication skills, areas in which women are outpacing men. Men's workforce participation rate fell from 75.8 percent in 1992 to 70.2 in 2012, and keeps declining. That's a situation as worthy of attention as women's perceived failure to be all they can be.
Let's truly give women the respect they deserve and stop viewing the workworld as a battle between the sexes.
Carrie Lukas is managing director of the Independent Women's Forum, which aims to increase the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty.