A network with different types of people is the most beneficial, but managing cross-gender relationships is a taboo topic. This video examines ways to make cross-gender relationships work.
- When we talk about cross-gender mentoring, I know it can sometimes feel like we are navigating a minefield because we worry we might say the wrong thing or inadvertently cause events. However, my mentoring research shows definitively that for both men and women, it is helpful to have a network of different types of people that includes gender variety. In this video, I will offer guidance to make your cross-gender relationships work well.
First, acknowledge to yourself and to your mentor that gender differences matter both in the relationship and other's perceptions. For example, several years ago, I gave a presentation to a group of top executives most of whom were men. In this presentation, I mentioned the importance of cross-gender mentoring relationships. One of the executives raised his hand and said, "Ellen, there is no way I will mentor a woman "because my other employees will think something is going on "and my wife will kick my bum." I wish we lived in a world where this feeling was a joke.
I had to acknowledge his willingness to be honest. He said out loud something that many others were likely thinking. This kind of statement shows that other people's perceptions regarding the professionalism of your relationship do matter. So accept that perceptions are a fact and manage them accordingly. Choose your mentoring activities carefully and perhaps differently with cross-gender relationships.
You determine what your boundaries are and what you are comfortable with. Here's a quick reflection exercise. Take a moment and think of your current mentors. What are some activities that you could do with them that feels comfortable? Notice if there are differences due to gender. Second, take the lead in setting the tone of the conversation. As the protege, you set the tone for the conversation. Take small risks and build up.
Develop your own set of rapport building conversational topics that have broad applicability and are relatively neutral. For me, my conversational go to topics center around travel and restaurants. Take a moment now and think about what are your conversational go to's? Third, address discomfort around gender if it arises. Sometimes if you are not comfortable, you just need to address it.
For example, I had a mentor who took me to a dark romantic restaurant which felt a little uncomfortable to me. For our next meeting when the mentor suggested dinner again, I said something like this. "I would love to go to dinner again, "but how about this time I pick the restaurant?" This might have been a little indirect, but it was a way to communicate without embarrassing the mentor. After that, I always pick the restaurant. Fourth, stay attuned to managing the impressions online and in person.
For example, one male CEO I know who does mentor a lot of men and women always invites his proteges to meet his wife and family. Finally, be your best professional self on social media. Think carefully about where you want to meet online. For example, I share a lot of funny stories about my son on Facebook. My mentor was my Facebook friend. I realized that being Facebook friends was a mistake.
I felt that every conversation we had was all about mom stuff and not about where I wanted to go professionally. At that point, I decided I needed to keep my Facebook life separate from my professional life. By and large, most cross-gender relationships are perfectly professional. But remember, managing other people's impressions is just as important as what happens in the actual relationship.