Mentor Your Female Employees

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 6:51 PM EDT

When Ernst & Young's internal focus groups revealed that many male managers weren't as confident managing women as they were managing men, the firm started a coaching program.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Billie Williamson, Ernst & Young Americas director of flexibility and gender equity strategy, about their program, which seems to use a mix of psychology and common sense to help managers better mentor their female employees. Here are some of her main points:

  • Be frank. Many male managers feel uncomfortable talking to a female employee about issues like dress code, but Williamson says don't back away from it.
  • Don't worry about her crying. People deal with emotions in different ways, and that's OK. If you need to give difficult feedback to an emotional employee -- male or female -- don't sugarcoat, but keep a box of tissues handy just in case. Even if the employee does cry, it usually passes quickly.
  • Let her make decisions about her career. Williamson coached a manager who had several women in one office who were ready to be promoted -- but promoting them all would mean too many partners in one office. Concerned about their husbands' ability to transfer with their wives, he initially didn't even offer the option of transferring for the promotion. When he did, he found someone who was thrilled with the opportunity and her husband moved with her.
  • Help women develop the relationships that they need to get ahead. Women tend to focus on doing a good job first, then working on relationship-building, whereas men are more likely to seek out relationship-building opportunities, such as attending client meetings, earlier on. As a manager, reach out to your female employees and invite them to meetings that will help them further their career.
Although many of the comments on the article wonder why women should be mentored differently, Williamson goes on to say that many of these approaches work with other employees and clients. Certainly, involving an employee -- male or female -- in decisions that affect his or her career helps any employee feel more engaged in the company. A conscientious manager won't find any fault there.

Williamson went on to say that many of these same approaches work for women managing women or for men and women working with female clients.