Contact Us            FR

   Ally Toolkit to Support Men as Allies

Mentorship & Sponsorship

Mentorship is often referred to as an important component of leadership development. Yet, we don’t often take the time to interrogate what this concept means. Definitions of mentorship are difficult to come by. “Mentor” is often assumed to be understood. It turns out that there are many definitions of mentorship, and confusion about the term exists within the research on the topic. 

One definition of mentorship is a: “ process in which a more skilled or more experienced person, serving as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, counsels, and befriends a less skilled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latter’s professional and/or personal development. Mentoring functions are carried out within the context of an ongoing, caring relationship” (Anderson, 1987 cited in Anderson & Shannon 1988). 

Mentors can serve any one or more of the following five functions:

  1. Teaching
  2. Sponsoring
  3. Encouraging
  4. Counselling and
  5. Befriending

It is important to remember that power functions within mentorship relationships. It is important to be aware of power dynamics—based on systems of power and privilege such as racism, sexism, settler colonialism, heterosexism, ableism—and how these systems impact the mentorship experience. These power structures may be replicated or amplified with formal institutions, such as healthcare or health science organizations; and as such, will alter and inform the mentor-mentee relationship dynamic. With this knowledge in mind, we must remember that mentorship has the potential to reproduce discrimination. A critical mentor will thus be a self-reflective and supportive person, who is aware that mentorship may be co-opted to serve aims other than that of the people within the mentorship relationship. This idea is explored further in Mentoring for Social Inclusion: A Critical Approach to Nurturing Mentor Relationships by Helen Colley. 

In a UK-based podcast from 2017, A new vision of leadership, Stephen Dalton, ex-chief executive of the NHS Confederation and the Mental Health Network interviews two chief executives on the topics of mentorship and coaching:

  1. Navina Evans, chief executive at East London NHS Foundation Trust shares her own personal journey to leadership as both a clinician and an Asian woman, and discusses how women can be supported to banish imposter syndrome through mentoring and coaching.
  2. Steve McManus, the chief executive at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust also shares his insights into why the NHS needs a new form of leadership, and why the term 'soft skills' should be a thing of the past. 

Mentorship can and should be a two-way relationship, mentors can learn from their mentees as much as the other way around. Reverse Mentoring is a way for mentoring to help chip away at biases in both directions: Mentors come to believe that their protégés merit opportunities and in turn their sponsorship helps give protégés the breaks they need to develop and advance. 

Push-Pull Mentoring is a concept that Dr. Jule Silver promotes. What does it consist of? Simply put: Push people ahead of you & Pull people behind you

The title reads: Develop a Push-Pull Mentoring & Sponsorship Culture. There are two images of people climbing ladders with the words “ PUSH people ahead of you and PULL people behind you.


Sponsorship is an integral part of mentorship, but because of the lack of theory & action around mentorship, not all mentors take this approach. “Sponsoring involves being a kind of guarantor. Sponsoring within the context of mentoring involves three essential behaviors: protecting, supporting, and promoting” ( Anderson & Shannon, 1988).

As Bill Tholl, Founding Executive Director of the Canadian Health Leadership Network, details in the quote below: “It is necessary but not sufficient to mentor those that are coming behind you but also sponsor them. The distinction there is to not just point to doors but to actually help doors open.”

Bill Tholl: It is necessary but not sufficient to mentor those that are coming behind you but also sponsor them. The distinction there is to not just point to doors but to actually help doors open.


Use the allyship resources to familiarize yourself with the structural barriers to women who pursue leadership positions. Also, consider receiving mentorship from women. Women in your field may be open to acting as a mentor to you.

>Top

Mentorship in the Era of #MeToo and #TimesUp

Fear seems to be a barrier to men becoming mentors for women on their leadership journal. Dr. Sophie Soklaridis led a team studying this particular phenomenon. They cited how, “ In a study focused on engaging men in gender-equity initiatives, 74% of male senior business managers cited fear as a barrier to men’s support for gender equity” (Prime & Moss-Racsin, 2009).

The image is a blue and purple text box with Dr. Sophie Soklaridis’s headshot followed by her title as Interim Director of Education at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. The text below reads: In a study focused on engaging men in gender-equity initiatives, 74% of male senior business managers cited fear as a barrier to men’s support for gender equity.

An element influencing this fear of engaging in a mentorship relationship is the fear of being falsely accused of inappropriate conduct. In their study, Soklaridis and colleagues noted that “Focusing on men’s fear deflects attention from the issues that triggered this response in the first place. Being afraid to mentor women is not simply about fearing false accusations of sexual misconduct: it is about discrediting women who speak out against sexual assault and harassment. It also sidelines conversations about the serious consequences for women of limiting their mentorship opportunities, and it threatens to halt progress toward gender equity in leadership roles” (Soklaridis et al., 2018). 

It is important to note that there are more cases of sexual misconduct being reported and that this is also the case in healthcare and health sciences. A reflection of this is the development of the US-based TIME’S UP healthcare initiative. As they state on their website: “ Sexual harassment and gender discrimination have no place in health care. Women make up nearly 80 percent of the healthcare workforce, but only 20 percent of the decision makers — including hospital leadership, executives, and association presidents — are women. And sexual harassment and gender discrimination run rampant: Researchers estimate that 50 percent of female medical students will experience harassment before they even graduate. That’s unacceptable. A safe, equitable, and dignified workforce is the only way we can provide high-quality patient care.” In March 2019, the TIME’S UP initiative released a short but very powerful video of male allies calling for an end to the unfair treatment of their female colleagues.

   

Become and Active By-stander

One of the columns in the ‘how to avoid microaggressions’ table above is what to say as a bystander. A bystander is a person who is present or hears about an incident but is not directly involved in it. An active bystander is one who takes action. The examples here are related to sexist behaviour and sexual harassment. This could be adapted to address racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination.

To be an active bystander, one will:

  1. Diffuse (Make a lighthearted comment to try to stop the situation.)
    Example : Sorry, what was that you said about women? What decade are you living in?  
  1. Call out (Calmly disagree and publicly declare the action or statement of the perpetrator to be wrong or unacceptable.)
    Example : You might have thought it was just a joke, but I think that kind of comment is offensive.  
  1. Check in (Express your disapproval and ask if the target is ok.)
    Example : That was so wrong of Sam to talk about your shirt like that. Are you OK? Do you want me to find out how you can report that kind of sexist behaviour?
  1. Report (Access your organisation’s sexual harassment reporting system and report details accurately)
    Example : Fatima visited the student union and asked for advice on how best to report an issue. She then lodged a written complaint.

In 2017, VicHealth and the Behavioural Insights Team created a guide to help organizations introduce bystander initiatives as part of their work to reduce sexist and sexually harassing behaviours.

In the image below Dr. Needhi Bhalla highlights how important it is to “talk to your peers and colleagues about sexual harassment and assault and erode the status that some serial harassers continue to enjoy.” She goes on to add a series of concrete actions allies can take: “Do not collaborate with them. Do not invite them to meetings, to give seminars. Do not invite them to be a PI on a training grant or to participate in a graduate program.”

The image is a black rectangle with predominantly white text. The website edgeforscholars.org is cited above text which reads: Talk to your peers and colleagues about sexual harassment and assault and erode the status that some serial harassers continnue to enjoy. Do not collaborate with them. Do not invite them to meetings, to seminars. Do not invite them to be a PI on a training grant or to participate in a graduate program. Below the text, Needhi Bhalla is cited in red cursive letters.



>Top