Recent research by DDI associates and staff[1] found that most of their female respondents had never had a formal mentor. And yet, most respondents felt that mentorship is highly important in helping to advance their careers.

The study was carried out across 19 countries and many industry sectors and attracted responses from mainly senior and mid-level management ranks.

It seems from the study that senior women are not often asked to be mentors to others, whether male or female. When asked, they nearly always agree, which disproves some impressions that women at the top are jealous of their own achievement and do not wish to help other women up the ladder.

Time is perceived as a barrier in women agreeing to mentor others, but once the relationship has been established, the study showed that mentoring, in fact, does not hinder their performance in their own work.

These findings underline the necessity to support leadership development for all staff, and especially for women and other disadvantaged groups, with formal mentoring programmes. The reluctance of more junior people to approach their seniors for mentoring is such a barrier that unless mentoring programmes are formalised, mentoring will not happen.

The results of a McKinsey study in 2010[2] showed that, firstly, most respondents believed that there is a direct connection between gender diversity in a company and its financial success; and secondly, that “one of the key characteristics of organisations with the largest percentage of women at the C-level is that they encourage or mandate senior executives to mentor women in lower-level jobs”. The other two key characteristics were found to be that there is visible monitoring of the advancement of women by the CEO and that skills-building programmes are put in place aimed specifically at women.

To our knowledge, no similar research has yet been done in South Africa.  We believe it would be highly beneficial if the Employment Equity Commission were to commission research into development practices demonstrated by those organisations which are most successful at the advancement of women and other previously disadvantaged groups. With the possible introduction of Gender Equality legislation, which seeks to ensure equal representation of women in all decision-making structures of organisations, employers would do well to review their developmental practices and in particular, look at the effectiveness of their mentoring programmes.

[1] Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn’t She? 2014.

[2] Moving Women to the Top: McKinsey Global Survey results. McKinsey Quarterly.