Should Men Mentor Women Even After #MeToo?

Unintended Consequences of the #MeToo Movement

Recently a friend told me something that concerned me. He said since the #metoo campaign, which has gained incredible traction over the last months, some men have become wary of mentoring women. Their concern is not that they will get caught doing the wrong thing, but fear over whether false accusations or misinterpretations will occur, leaving them with damaged reputations.

I can understand this concern, to some extent. The #metoo movement has been an incredible force that has swept over the world and given opportunity for women to voice their grievances about men who have treated them unfairly, and even abused them. This has impacted our social, political, and economic spheres. The outcome of this movement is still being decided and yet to be fully seen.

The impact has been good in that it has given voice to many suffering women, hopefully bringing about opportunity for change.

An unintended consequence, however, is that some men are feeling tentative in their interaction with women. They are concerned about being misrepresented—despite the fact that they might not have done anything wrong. As a result, some men may feel overly cautious, even hesitant in these times, about connecting with women. But putting up unnecessary barriers towards working with and relating to women will simply put women at a disadvantage once again.

This is no reason to abandon the #metoo movement. What the #metoo movement has done so well is spotlight the unhealthy and damaging ways that men have interacted with women.

But when men avoid relationships with women altogether, for fear of what others may misconstrue, this also undercuts God’s design for gender-related reconciliation and mutuality in leadership. More than ever, men and women need to be working together—in work, in social spaces, and in the Church—in order to contribute to the growth of God’s reign. When men avoid relationships with women altogether, for fear of what others may misconstrue, this undercuts God’s design for gender-related reconciliation and mutuality in leadership. Click To Tweet

Particularly when it comes to the Church, if we want to empower women for ministry, this will require men who are willing to mentor, come alongside of, and befriend women. So in this article, I’d like to focus on ways men can mentor women. Let’s acknowledge that it can indeed feel tricky to know how to navigate cross-gender relationships. Here are some things I can offer that I’ve learned along the way.

5 Essentials for Men Effectively Mentoring Women

I have been mentored by a male leader for several years now—and my experience has been a positive one. So for those who are skeptical about this and prefer, for example, to hold to the Billy Graham Rule, where mentoring the opposite gender is almost impossible, I want to say this: being mentored by a male is possible, and it can help women to develop into the leaders that God wants them to be.

In a recent study on gender differences in leadership style, it showed that women have the capacity to be senior leaders. There are certain barriers, however.

Thus, women have the styles to thrive as senior leaders, yet they hardly succeed into higher positions. If it is not the ability that causes differences in leadership positions, other barriers must exist that are keeping women from advancement.

The barriers listed were lack of confidence, gender biases, leadership identity in that usually people with more masculine characteristics are seen as “leadership material,” not enough female role models, and also a lack of access to networking, as this is seen often to be a male space.

Men who champion and empower women is one (of many) things needed right now for women to be welcomed as full partners in God’s mission. Men have access to the networks that are needed for women to enter into the leadership arena. In the diversity they bring into a mentoring relationship, men can also be good role models for women leaders. (Of course, this does not mean that we do not need good female leader role models also. Both are needed).

When men mentor women, both parties benefit. Men begin to understand the struggles that women have, and grow a larger capacity for seeing from a different perspective. This experience also better equips men to confront and challenge sexism among their peers. Conversely, when men become mentors, sponsors, and encouragers of women, it can lead to an increase of confidence in women. Additionally, men can invite women into the resources and networks afforded to male leaders by our culture.

The issue is: how do we do this well? After all, it is possible for a male to mentor a female badly and in a counter-productive manner. Here are 5 guidelines that I think can help men be positive mentors to women.

  1. Talk about any boundaries that will help make the mentoring relationship healthy. It’s unhelpful to say that when women and men mentor each other, it’s not necessary to clarify boundaries. Instead, it is better to talk about what boundaries are needed that will help each person feel comfortable to continue in the mentoring relationship. This is different for everyone, depending on the two people. For some, a public space may actually be what feels hospitable for them. The Billy Graham rule tends to operate according to fear, but talking openly about what each person feels comfortable with and what space will help foster the kind of relationship that is intended does not have to be about fear. It is about wisdom and love. [To read about how one male pastor allows “hospitality” to guide him in his relationships with women, rather than fear, read How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Billy Graham Rule and Start Loving Like Jesus].
  2. Let others know that you are comfortable with mentoring women. As more men begin to mentor women, this will hopefully normalize the practice, as opposed to seeing it as an unusual occurrence. It’s important to share about your experience of mentoring women in order to help pave the way for others.
  3. Help her to gain access to any resources and networks that will help her succeed. One issue that women struggle with is that they cannot enter the networks that men have access to. Codes of behaviors that are masculine in these contexts—and a resistance to networking by some women— mean that women may miss out on opportunities that could help them use all the gifts that have. For instance, often when inviting people to speak at events, our immediate thought is to invite those who we know and trust. If women are not known by those within their networking contexts, they are not considered for these kinds of opportunities—regardless of how competent they might be. Make a point to welcome and introduce the women you mentor into your networks.
  4. Check your own gender bias. This means being aware of any tendencies that you might have to stereotype women. Placing women into more submissive categories and roles is an example. Perceiving them as always caring, friendly, and relational is a stereotype. These qualities are not bad—they are admirable—but women are usually stereotyped in this way. As a result, they are not associated with words typically associated with good leadership, such as decisive, assertive, and bold, even though there are many women who hold these qualities. Checking your own gender bias ensures you are not patronizing the women you are mentoring, but are indeed empowering and enabling them to freely grow into a Godly leader. Mentoring women is not about practicing paternalism. It is about helping women to identify and be confident in their abilities.
  5. Check your own sense of security. Sometimes men feel insecure around women who are competent and emerging as leaders. Are you confident enough to mentor a woman who may be more gifted and clever than you, for example? Can you be honest with yourself about whatever insecurities may arise in you, and simply submit them to Jesus?

More men need to be mentoring women. This can help with women feeling more emboldened about their gifts and give women access into the networks that are needed for them to develop into the leader God wants them to be. We can’t let fear overtake us in these times when the topic of gender seems to be increasingly polarized. If we are going to live the values of the reign of God, then we must model mutuality, sacrifice, kenosis, and service in a world that is broken and looking for hope today. For God's sake and the good of the kingdom, more men need to be mentoring women. Here's 5 ways to help make sure you do it well! Click To Tweet

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