Women are starting companies in the U.S. at 1.5 times the average rate. Yet almost half of the female founders say a lack of mentors is holding them back professionally. Indeed, a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that only 10 percent of senior-level women said they’ve had four or more executives help them advance their career.
With so little support, it’s no wonder women aren’t surviving the corporate pipeline. While roughly even numbers of men and women enter the workforce in entry-level positions annually, only 17% of C-level executives are women. As they enter the workforce, millennial women need strong female leaders who can help them reach their full potential and advance their career.
Here are 7 ways you can be an influential mentor for the women in your office:
1. Identify potential… then reach out
Look for high-potential young women in the office – they hit their goals, push their peers, and are producing, even early on. You can also identify these women by talking to their peers and managers – pay attention if they’re saying she’s a star. Reach out to these women. If you haven’t formally met yet, introduce yourself, and invite them to coffee or dinner.
Don’t let this coffee date be a one-time occurrence. Schedule another time to talk, and learn about their personal and professional goals.
2. Speak up during meetings
Don’t just be a mentor; be an example they can follow. Women often hesitate to speak up during company or team meetings because they fear being perceived as aggressive or they worry about backlash.
Show younger women they can have a voice by actively participating in meetings, sharing your opinions, and even voicing different opinions than colleagues. This practice may seem trivial… but for some women it’s a big deal.
3. Share your experiences
Only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and women are similarly underrepresented in VP and SVP roles. With so few women at the top, these executives’ lives become the examples we have to study when it comes to career success and work-life integration. How did Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook, get to the top? How does Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, navigate being a mother?
Provide another example to learn from. Be honest with young women about how you integrate life and work. Share the challenges you’ve faced in the workplace, and then be detailed about how to overcome these obstacles. There are countless different ways to be a female leader; make sure to share yours.
4. Give them new experiences
Giving young professionals access to executives can accelerate their development and build their professional networks. Bring younger women on some of your meetings, either with colleagues or with clients. Have them shadow you for a day. Afterwards, talk with them about what they learned and answer any questions they may have.
Expose millennial women to new opportunities and experiences they wouldn’t have otherwise… it shows them where they could be if they work hard, and it can teach them about their industry at a higher level.
5. Offer specific feedback
Mentors can offer plenty of personalized encouragement, but often the best thing they can give is honest feedback in the moment. If they were chewing gum when they presented in a meeting, pull them aside afterward and give them tips for public speaking. If they send an email with typos, talk to them about double-checking their work before they click “Send.”
It’s important for this feedback to be specific so that young women can grow quickly and meaningfully. Instead of saying “You should be more professional in meetings,” talk about their posture, their gum, or the way they spoke. Try to give them tangible things to work on.
6. Be a resource
Strive to be a resource for young women in the office: tell them they can come to you for help with anything. Role play difficult conversations so they feel prepared. Teach them how to negotiate. Give them chances to practice powerful, assured public speaking. Help them build their own self-esteem as a woman in the workplace, and prepare them to be a fearless female leader.
Being a mentor doesn’t mean going easy on mentees… it should be the opposite. Challenge young women to over-deliver on their work. Work with them to set goals, and then talk through how they can hit these goals and surpass them.
Encourage them to take leadership roles within their teams, and offer advice when they assume a management role. Talk continually about their professional and personal goals, and help them create their own path towards these goals. Push young women to ask for promotions when they deserve them, and to go for what they want in their careers.