Post #MeToo Men Wary To Mentor Women

More men are wary about mentoring women since the #MeToo movement began dominating headlines more than a year ago.

Deanna Burgart said statistics show before the #MeToo movement 64 per cent of men were reluctant to mentor women for many reasons such as accusations of inappropriate behaviour. After #MeToo, Burgart said the number has tripled.

“Anecdotally I have heard a lot of men say ‘I feel like I am walking on eggshells,’” said Burgart, president of Indigenous Engineering Inclusion Inc. “‘I don’t know whether I am going to say the wrong thing.’ My advice to them is ... OK good. Now unpack that. Ask yourself what you can do to be more aware of your unconscious bias, be more aware of what might be offensive.”

Burgart, who combines engineering principles with respect for Earth as an “indigeneer’ took part in a four-person panel comprised of executives mainly from the oil and gas sector who discussed mentorship in the promotion of diversity at the North American Women in Energy Forum this week.

“I am of the #MeToo movement,” Burgart told the panel. “I can tell you that being a survivor has changed the way that I receive how people treat me in the workplace. Yeah there is an onus on me to heal and there is an onus on me to be aware of my reaction to others. But there is also an onus on everyone to be aware of how we act may impact someone who has already experienced trauma. The #MeToo movement has brought these conversations to the forefront. We can either run in fear or say ‘OK let’s talk about it now.’”

Colby Delorme, president of The Imagination Group, said the movement against sexual harassment and abuse has influenced everything. He said if there is a reluctance to mentor then he or she is the wrong person. Delorme said he almost hires women exclusively for his Aboriginal businesses because he finds working with women easier.

“There’s some risk associated to that because I run a small organization so I am alone with women,” said Delorme. “So if I were to run into an issue, I could have a difficult time being able to argue that something didn’t happen. But I think it comes down to the way you work with someone.”

Delorme said if you’re not being inappropriate and you are treating someone with respect in the workplace then the issues are nonexistent.

“If somebody is concerned that somebody is going to say something about them, the question I would ask is why are you concerned about that? Why are you concerned how someone is going to read your actions? Not that it wouldn’t happen in the future, I would be very comfortable in saying no nothing has happened. I’ve been very respectful. I can’t understand the reluctance,” he said.

Deji Gbobaniyi, Suncor Energy Inc. program manager, added that it is important that every organization has protection in terms of policies and guidelines for everyone in the workplace so he or she does not come to work feeling unsafe or intimidated.

“Shame on us if anyone comes to work … male or female and they feel scared or intimidated,” he said. “I think the bottom line is the training still needs to be done especially for smaller organizations that do not have policies in place.”

Kate Hodges, CGI vice-president Calgary region, said awareness is key and once you understand that it’s time to move forward.

“That’s where the value comes into it, it shouldn’t restrain, it should give us another way of looking about how we communicate or how we mentor,” she said. “We just go forward.”

In order to encourage male and female mentorship relationships, Hodges said there needs to be training to understand what it means to mentor in diverse relationships.

“It really shouldn’t make a difference if it is male to male or female to male,” she said. “The whole point being the value we bring as a mentor to that mentoring relationship. There has to be a really good alignment of beliefs … From a gender point of view, it’s more about having a match from a mentor to a mentee than it has to do with gender.”

Mentoring is a two-way street, said Burgart. She suggested changing the power dynamic of traditional mentoring programs, which are based on a senior and junior person relationship, to a conversation of what the pair can learn from one another.

 “When we bring in diversity, whether it is gender or background or beliefs, we can have that conversation what we can learn from each other. That becomes a shared relationship.”

Hodges echoed her thoughts with the concept of “reverse mentorship” where both the mentor and mentee are learning from each other.

With today’s push to make workplaces more inclusive and diverse, the panel acknowledged the reluctance of some mentors to mentor someone who is different than them whether the difference is gender, background or ethnicity.

Burgart, who has had both male and female mentors in her career, said if organizations are going to pair mentors in order to be diverse, they must equip both parties with ways to communicate with one another such as unconscious bias and communication training.

“I think a lot of the conflicts in the workplace come from the fact we all see the world through different lenses,” she said. “You aren’t always going to know how to communicate with somebody else. But … knowing how to have those conversations to walk that path together is important.”

Hodges, who works for a global information technology consulting company, says she has more women come to her to be mentored than men in her male-dominated industry.

“They feel they need to be mentored by men to work their way up,” said Hodges. “That needs to be changed because it is not necessary. As we said, diversified thinking when it comes to mentors is important to get balance of both and to get rounded perspectives especially when you work up to an executive position. It’s important to have both perspectives.”