Women make lousy mentors

Make-Other-Women-Jealous-of-MeBefore you shoot the messenger, allow me to attribute the headline. It comes from the book 'Mad Women' by Jane Maas, a legendary figure in advertising circles and, at one point in my career, my boss.

In Jane's book, which is subtitled, 'The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond ' she discusses her life as one of the few senior women in advertising at the time.

'Mad Women' confirms what the breakthrough AMC series, 'Mad Men', suggests: hard drinking, raucous workplace sex and treating women as second-class citizens in the workplace were not only de rigueur but far worse than the series would suggest.

That said, Jane believes women have made little, if any, progress since the 1960s. She says every career woman she interviewed from the 1960s and today used the same words and phrases to describe their feelings: “…they can't be a superperformer at work and a supermom and a superwife and a super everything.' She says, despite all of the apparent progress made by women since the feminist movement of the 1960s, “…there is still a war between women who don't stay home and women who do stay home. The guilt is intense on both sides of the conflict.”

Part of the problem, says Maas, is that “women are lousy mentors.” We say we are giving the newbies a helping hand, but our hearts are not in it. The most successful women in our business, the ones who rival men, don't have time to mentor. And besides, there's a little undercurrent of feeling that says: “I've made it on my own; why should you expect to be carried?'' As a result, working moms have no one to turn to for advice.

Wow. Now, that's what I call a controversial statement. I can't speak for the advertising business, but I sure haven't witnessed this phenomenon in public relations (an industry completely dominated by women, BTW). That said, the last time I checked, I was still a man. So, I don't know if women are, in fact, lousy mentors.

I can say that the mentors in my life were men. And, that's because there were few women in positions of power when I was moving up through the ranks.

I can't imagine women not wanting to mentor other women. But, I'd sure like to hear from the distaff side of the equation.

Is Jane right? Or, does her thinking reflect a world that no longer exists. I can tell you this: having worked for Jane, I know that she never pulled her punches or steered us wrong. So, I have no reason to doubt her words. That said, do me a favor: don't shoot the messenger.

18 thoughts on “Women make lousy mentors

  1. Really interesting (and sad) statement, Julie. I must admit to having been completely blind to the women not mentoring women issue until reading the Jane Maas book.

  2. Really interesting (and sad) statement, Julie. I must admit to having been completely blind to the women not mentoring women issue until reading the Jane Maas book.

  3. Unfortunately, since there are less seats at the top of the corporate ladder for women in most corporations, women are left to compete with other women for the plum spots.
    Therefore, in my experience, mentoring by women to other women is rare.
    It’s a shame, really, with all the progress women have made that in 2012 women still feel the need to compete with each other… not just for personal relationships with men, but for jobs, too.

  4. I feel like Jackie Mason — “did I offend someone?”
    Seriously, I’ve had excellent women mentors myself. I just wonder if the effort is more concrete and sincere in corporate environments than most agency cultures.

  5. Good perspective, annmb. I wonder if there’s been a definitive study analyzing which gender does, in fact, do a better job of mentoring?

  6. Interesting take from a man’s POV. Peter: I’d advise you net to set foot in Peppercom for a few weeks. These remarks will endear you to no one.

  7. There’s a lot of info out there from organizations such as Catalyst that shows women can and do mentor one another, both formally and informally (some of the most successful models, btw, seem to be formal mentoring programs in which senior executive men mentor emerging women leaders. Both learn a lot). The key seems to be a company culture that fosters development because the company recognizes how important it is to keep employees, male or female.
    As for women working inside or outside of the home — I agree — plenty of conflict and guilt. My own view is that our great grandchildren may finally get it right, where fathers and mothers trade off and share in rearing children and making money and building careers. Probably sounds Pollyanna, but other countries have made real progress in this area.

  8. I worked with Jane at EPB too and understand exactly where she’s coming from. Female-to-female mentoring may have gained more traction in the past 50 years, but it’s not as widespread as conventional wisdom and business media would suggest. I think that’s particularly true of agencies (though I’m sure the mentoring at Peppercom is terrific).
    Jackie is absolutely right about the Mommy Wars. That Time Magazine “Are You Mommy Enough?” cover story really hit a nerve. Three months ago I became a part-time stay-at-home dad, and the amount of judgement on both sides of the aisle can be startling.

  9. Nice. Thanks Jackie. Totally agree re: it being all about the kids. I’d also like to believe that it’s all about the individual mentor and not the gender. Just thought it was interesting that a legendary ad woman was throwing other women under the bus, and implying that many are too fearful of losing their powerful positions to be true mentors to younger, would-be rivals.

  10. As a working mom, I think there are two separate issues here. As far as mentors are concerned, I have had great male and female mentors (some of them here at Pcom) and lousy male and female mentors (so far none of them here at Pcom). My experience is that it is less about gender and more about one’s own personal leadership style and sense of security. I do try to be a mentor both to my male and female colleagues, although I am sure I never make enough time as I would like.
    As far as the so-called “mommy wars,” I agree that it does exist and there is plenty of judging from both sides. However, the financial crisis has changed that conversation quite a bit. I know several women who have had return to the workforce for economic reasons. Sometimes they reach out us veterans for advice and I’m happy to provide any guidance that I can and help them navigate hiring nannies, manage train schedules and share quick and easy dinner recipes.
    I’ve heard lots of opinions on the value of working versus staying home and in reality, the only opinion that matters to me is that of my family. I’m doing what makes me happy and I am a far better mother and person for it. Bottom line, women need to stop judging each other’s choices or situations and try to serve as role models for the children we are raising.

  11. Rep, you wrote: “I can’t believe one woman would purposely try to derail another to ensure her position in the corporate hierarchy.” I can hardly believe my eyes!
    Why not?

  12. It’s nice to see that, unlike Michael, you don’t prejudge a woman or her book, Bedrock. I’m starting to think that a rush to judgment is commonplace among licensing executives (male or female).

  13. I have to disagree with you, Michael. I have not read Jane’s book, but based on Steve’s comments, I do not find Jane’s POV offensive. I think this is clearly Jane’s (unfortunate) experience with women serving as mentors.
    I mentioned previously that I have had a very positive experience with mentors in this industry. However, I have seen examples of women trying to hold back others due to jealousy because there is a new kid on the block (and my experience is not just in this industry). They do it through bullying or even just by completely ignoring the potential mentee. This is by no means common from what I can tell, but I have seen it and am assuming this is the type of experience Jane is pulling from.

  14. I would argue that you’re making the same mistake you accuse Jane of: pre-judging her comments without reading the entire book. In her defense, I can tell you that Jane interviewed many, many women for her book. And, those women worked in the ad world of 1960 and today. According to Jane, they’re all struggling with the ‘superwoman’ burden. I can’t comment about women being lousy mentors since, as I said, I’ve never had one. Also, one point of clarification, while Ed and I did work for Jane at Earle Palmer Brown in the early 1990s, we didn’t report to her. Hence, there were no opportunities for mentoring.

  15. I think Jane Maas’ comments are really offensive. To begin with there’s an inference here that she is speaking on behalf of all women and that’s quite a large group for whom to be a non-elected spokesperson. Jane is also connecting an inability to be a super-everything, with the war between women and who do and don’t stay at home, with women are lousy mentors, with success among women contingent on rivaling men, with working moms having no one to turn to for advice. Those seem like five disparate points, each of them perhaps true for some people, most of them debatable, the summation being a weak and inflammatory argument. The workplace, and indeed our society, has been rife with gender, age, racial and religious discrimination across history and has been legitimately highlighted in times of rights movements, judicial decisions and success stories. That said…super everything. Warfare. Mentoring inability. OUR hearts aren’t in it. This sounds like a book featuring one person’s anger unleashed. Hopefully readers can separate the vitriol from the actual lessons.

  16. Thanks, Bedrock. It’ll be interesting to see what other women think. I could see Jane’s point being relevant in the 1960s when there were, in fact, so few women in the workplace. But, I can’t believe one woman would purposely try to derail another to ensure her position in the corporate hierarchy. Then again, what do I know? I’m a man.

  17. Interesting topic/post, Steve. I can say in my short time in this industry, I have had several women who I consider to be my mentors and who have really helped me to be the professional I am today. With that said, I personally will always find the time to help and discuss the industry with anyone (regardless of gender) who thinks I am worthy of being a mentor. And I’ll always take that time to help foster another person’s career not only because I want to see others succeed like I have, but I want to pass on the time and knowledge my mentors have spent with me.
    I definitely disagree with Jane’s thoughts that women are lousy mentors.