A diversity initiative spearheaded by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has been brought to Australia by the founders of mentor facilitating startup Mentorloop, as a way to encourage male business leaders in the startup and corporate space to step up and mentor more women.
The movement, called #MentorHer, emerged from the wake of the #MeToo movement incited by numerous sexual assault allegations against prominent men such as Harvey Weinstein, buoyed by the longstanding issues of diversity and discrimination in spaces such as the tech sector.
It started after a survey conducted by Sandberg’s organisation LeanIn found that due to the #MeToo movement, male business leaders now feel twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman. Additionally, the number who said they were uncomfortable mentoring women more than tripled, from 5% to 16%.
“This unexpected knock-on effect of #MeToo has resulted in men feeling more apprehensive about mentoring women in the workplace,” Mentorloop co-founder Heidi Holmes tells StartupSmart. Holmes and her co-founder Lucy Lloyd launched their startup in 2015 and have since raised more than $1 million in funding.
“We know how impactful mentoring can be for women’s careers, and apprehension from men wanting to work one-on-one with women — if they’re aware of it or not — is leading to less potential for women in organisations everywhere.”
This is why Holmes and Lloyd want to help flip these effects of the #MeToo campaign on its head, and are calling for men to step up and “proactively pledge” to mentor more women.
While the mentoring services offered by Mentorloop itself are not formally linked to #MentorHer, a number of the startup’s clients have taken the pledge and the team can help facilitate mentoring relationships for new pledgers if needed. Some local members of the Male Champions of Change initiative have also made pledges.
Managing partner of Australian venture capital firm rampersand Paul Naphtali tells StartupSmart the #MentorHer movement is an important one that recognises the need “to level the playing field”.
“Even the quickest glance at the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles as well as the significant gender pay gap across every sector should be a wake-up call to any leader who wants to offer a fair shot for women and work towards creating a better world,” he says.
“I am looking forward to increasing the number of women I am mentoring. Just as diverse teams perform better, diverse mentoring partnerships are a powerful opportunity for both participants to learn more about the world through a different set of eyes.”
Issues stretch beyond startup sector
Holmes says speaking with the media, such as in this article, is the first “official launch” of the #MentorHer movement in Australia but she hopes it will reach beyond just the startup community.
The next step, she says, is to get uptake from Australia’s corporate community, namely the leaders of the country’s top listed companies. Of those top 200, 94% of chief executives are male and more of them are named ‘John’ than are women — damning statistics Holmes says shows a desperate need for change.
“We see having this conversation as the opportunity to officially launch this, but it’s going beyond our clients and beyond the Male Champions for Change. We want to support diversity and inclusion across the whole business community,” she says.
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“And at the end of this, we want to actually have some case studies where men who have put their hand up and offered a mentoring relationship have had some impact on women’s lives.”
While Holmes acknowledges these successes and relationships aren’t formed overnight, she hopes the medium-to-long term individual benefits will promote more impactful conversations around the topic.
Partner at Blackbird Ventures Nick Crocker has pledged his support to the #MentorHer movement, telling StartupSmart it was a great opportunity for the company to “show our continued commitment to doing more for women in tech”. He believes strong mentorship is crucial in every industry, and men signalling that they’re open to mentoring is a good first step.
“It can be intimidating to ask someone to mentor you, and something like #mentorher gives permission for people to ask which is really important,” he says.
“I also think that listening to the experiences of female colleagues and leaders is important. It helps us all to understand at a deeper level some of the complexities that women face as they lead and found companies.”
In a Facebook post launching the initiative earlier this month, Sheryl Sandberg called for men who “want to be on the right side of this issue” to step up and take the #MentorHer pledge.
“We also need to focus on getting more women into positions of power. A more equal world would be a better world, with stronger companies, economies, and families. And yes, with less sexual harassment, which is less prevalent when women lead,” she said.
“This is the time for more mentorship, more sponsorship — and more men stepping up and working toward equality for everyone.”
The Mentorloop founders have launched a signup page for people to pledge their support, which can be found here.