Women Mentoring Men: Revelations and Discoveries in Women Mentoring Men
In Spring of 2020, Menttium launched a ground-breaking pilot program, Women Mentoring Men: Standing Together for Change. This program was designed to help engage men as allies in gender equity, and to facilitate courageous conversations about inclusion in the workplace.
Last month, we shared a Women Mentoring Men Interview: Part I episode in our Q&A series with Rob Grubka and Michelle Wieser. This month, we are bringing you Part II to share another powerful story where men and women came together to learn from each other, share experiences, and ultimately, create change.
Tim and Natalie were mentoring partners during our last program, and their experience was an impactful one. Natalie McGrady was Tim’s mentor and is the Director of Supplier Diversity at Cargill. Tim Meyer is the Vice President of Clinical Affairs at ZOLL Respicardia Inc.
Our Q&A reveals a glimpse of their journey and the impact of this unique mentoring partnership experience.
What motivated you to participate in the Women Mentoring Men Program?
Natalie: I wanted to participate because I felt this was a great opportunity to be on the mentor side, versus the mentee, and to learn from that experience. I thought this would be a great opportunity for professional development as well.
Tim: I was fortunate to be part of a program in a prior role where men were advocating for change. This was an eye-opening experience for me, and helped me confront some of my own privilege early on. That made a big impact on me and made me want to be more actively involved in being an advocate for change. When this program came around, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d just left my previous role and didn’t have that infrastructure anymore, so this gave me the opportunity to continue learning, dialoguing and listening.
What were some of the key takeaways or lessons learned through participation?
Natalie: One of my key takeaways was that our lived experiences may be completely different from one another, but even when the experiences themselves are not different, the way they’ve impacted us almost certainly is. We heard many of the experiences the other mentors and mentees brought to the table. While I am a woman of color, I was surprised to find that I actually had many of the same experiences as some of the white women. However, the impact on my career was different because I was a woman of color.
I also found that the men were open to hearing, learning, and listening and were very thoughtful about how we approach our mentorship, which I found was surprising and very helpful. Not just helpful for me, but for the women in Tim’s life as well – his wife, daughter and his mother’s contribution as well.
Tim: Even in my prior experience, simply talking through situations with women leaders was impactful. But in this program, it was so striking, moving and humbling just to listen to the stories and experiences and continued passion of the women in the program.
What was particularly revealing was how our discussions highlighted my own white male privilege. Sharing these experiences exposes what most men don’t think of on a regular basis.
In any program like this, you’ll see varying levels of commitment from men. So this was an opportunity for me to be an active contributor and to help, in whatever capacity I could, to help to move things forward.
Additionally, I was extremely fortunate to be paired with someone like Natalie was definitely a bonus. As a white man, I came into this program thinking – how can I be an advocate for change? Especially when you see how, in many companies, so few women are at the top or in leadership roles, whereas women make up at least half of the workforce.
So it was great for me to hear from the perspective of a black woman in particular. Learning about Natalie’s experience highlighted for me how this is not a new problem. This has been going on for a very long time now, and as a man, I can learn a lot about how to become an advocate for change.
Was there anything that surprised you about your experience?
Natalie: COVID hit during our program, so we went from in-person to virtual. So that was not expected at all.
Before COVID, we’d been going through this journey together – even up until after George Floyd was killed in May, 2020. So this was a very interesting shift. This was a group of leaders who were very used to working in a certain way. So it was interesting to see how that shift took place.
Tim: I was thinking of our first session, where we were all sitting in a circle, which was a very moving environment for me. And then to be essentially scattered where we had to do things virtually was definitely a learning experience.
Another aspect that was immensely helpful to me were the individuals that were brought in by Menttium to present. Menttium has tremendous infrastructure in place to support these types of programs and are really the leaders in the space. The individuals that came in to present really helped make the program more impactful with, for example, discussions about subtle acts of exclusion or bias. You go into these programs knowing that you’re going to learn something. But the portion that involved our external mentors certainly was helpful.
Natalie: I keep that book Subtle Acts of Exclusion, on my shelf and read it frequently now because it reveals a different way of thinking about how you show up in the workplace, and how these acts of exclusion happen to you–and how you perpetuate those acts of exclusion.
Thinking about it, we all have our biases, so the discussion we had really turned it upside-down and helped us to think about it differently.
Tim: I didn’t go into this thinking beyond the female perspective. So again, being teamed up with Natalie here was a great opportunity to discover and talk through the complexities of the male/female component, but also, the black/white dynamic.
And then, when George Floyd was murdered, that took things in a totally different direction, but also revealed a crucial element of what we were discussing that we might not have otherwise uncovered. Thankfully, Menttium was there with us, helping us and guiding us as we worked through these difficult discussions.
Natalie: I remember we had our last session after George Floyd’s murder. It was good to see everyone, and come together after that difficult time. In spite of the recent events, it was great to speak with each other and hear what they were going through. It was a very comforting experience, especially because Menttium did a great job getting us to talk about our feelings (even when we didn’t want to).
Why is it so important that men find women mentors?
Natalie: I feel it is extremely important. And this is something I’ve been struggling with lately, since I have a 22-year-old who is looking for a job right now. I realized I’d only had him talk to other men in preparing him for the workplace. I had to check myself on that. During our discussion, it occurred to me that I needed him to talk with other women to get a better understanding of his place in the workforce, and I realize that was likely my own subtle act of exclusion.
I only considered his need to see strong black male figures in the workforce, but I’d overlooked this crucial element – that my son could see women as more than just moms and sisters and aunties. He could see them as strong, competent professionals who get things done. And he could then translate that into seeing them as someone who’s doing a great job and is a real role model for him.
Tim: I come from the perspective of both the business and the personal side. Especially in the business side, all the data out there tells you if you want to be an effective leader and successful as possible, you need to have a diverse workforce and board of directors. Even still, with that evidence, it is still hard for a man to fully appreciate the value of diversity.
A good example is the continuum of advocacy and a man’s place on that spectrum. The traditional journey of awareness involves going from being absent and accepting to active and advocating. And if you’re only surrounded by men who look like you, you’ll probably never gain that awareness.
So for me, having women mentors is absolutely crucial to understanding the issue better. If you’re really willing to listen to your female peers about their daily experience in the workplace, it can be an incredibly humbling discovery. And you only get that when men have women mentors.
Natalie: We’re empty-nesters now. So now, we’re much more equal in the “workforce” within our own homes. While we were raising our children, we weren’t really equal. My husband could get up and go to work and not even think anything about making dinner for the kids, doing laundry, or taking care of other things that I just naturally did. We are now able to strike a much healthier balance of equality within our own home, which is really great.
Tim: My mom was a leading advocate for Title IX-9 where I grew up so I was exposed to the inequalities of opportunities within the educational system. And I can also discuss with my wife her own perspective, which is always eye-opening for me. Also, for men who have daughters, I think they are inherently more aware of that dynamic in the background.
But again, I would hope that when my daughter, or the next generation as a whole gets into the workforce, things will be much better than it is today. Historically, we can see that we’ve been making a little bit of progress over time, but not enough. There is still so much work left to be done, but I am hopeful for how different the workforce will look in 20 years from now. I believe having women mentors can significantly accelerate that change.
How can people spark change towards gender parity and equity in their own organization?
Tim: When I was with a larger company, I was lucky there was a real top-down push to learn about diversity and equity and solve for the gaps in that company.
But when I left that company to join a start-up, that infrastructure was not available given the size of the company. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep learning and growing. It was great timing when Menttium came along with the opportunity to participate in Women Mentoring Men. I was able to use what I learned at my previous job and combine that with the new material in Menttium.
There was a woman in particular at Menttium with whom I had the opportunity to have a 1-on-1 meeting. She showed me the many different ways to go about these highly nuanced topics. She showed me how some people could be very vocal and successful with large groups and seminars, while others could be much more comfortable and impactful at a one-on-one level. It really does depend on the situation, the group, and a handful of other dynamics.
Now as my company has been recently acquired, and we’re a part of a larger company, I’m finding new ways I can be an advocate and share my knowledge, and also, how I can be more effective in my role going forward.
Natalie: I became a co-chair for our Cargill Women’s Network. As a woman of color (my other co-chair is also a woman of color), that has been a very different yet valuable experience for me. Women of color had not traditionally participated in the women’s network until I did.
I feel a real opportunity to bring forward some of the issues I am concerned about, like I have a real voice to influence people and affect change. Gender parity and equity are extremely important, but we also can’t overlook how different it is specifically for women of color. Like when we celebrate International Women’s day, are we thinking intentionally about equity for women of color, too? When we’re rolling out programs like Paradigm for Parity, it’s my opportunity to ensure we don’t forget about women of color, and that we are truly seeing, hearing, and representing all women.
Think about how this dynamic relates to equal payday. For instance, I’ll bring up how white women will most certainly hit an equal pay day earlier than black or Hispanic women. I don’t mean to be confrontational about it; I am only concerned about the facts and finding ways to increase equality for all. What’s really meaningful to me here is that I have an opportunity to be a voice for the community of all women. I am able to bring facts to light that otherwise might not if a woman of color wasn’t the co-chair. This has been a tremendously valuable opportunity for me to effect real, meaningful change.
One last example I will share is the recent 100th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. I did some work related to this with a local organization we’re affiliated with. Together, we wanted to ensure people were celebrating this very important milestone of 100 years since women’s suffrage, and rightly so. However, we also wanted to ensure we were remembering that equity in that movement didn’t truly come until 1965 when black women (and men, too) were finally allowed to vote for the first time.
What is one piece of advice or wisdom you would offer to future participants?
Tim: Educate yourself – do some meaningful research – before participating in this program. To really benefit from this program is to be fully committed to it.
If you just show up for the meetings without having done any pre-reading beforehand, you’re likely going to get less out of it. You’re less likely to move forward to becoming an advocate and ally, which is really the goal for this program.
Go in committed, and be willing to spend the time. Since the purpose of the program is to transform us from being passive and accepting to active and an advocate.
Natalie: I agree with everything he just said. I think it’s important that you take the time, and make the effort. It’s important to understand what equity and allyship means in this space, and I think Menttium is far ahead of the curve in this respect. Menttium has set the standard in teaching us what it means to be a true ally in this space.
Learn More About Menttium’s WMM Program
As we reflect on another powerful story like Natalie and Tim’s, we are both hopeful and inspired to continue this important work. If you’re looking for ways to get off the sidelines and into the game, we’d welcome you to learn more about mentoring opportunities with Menttium. We’ve been helping mentors and mentees alike grow in leadership, inclusion, empathy and so much more for 30 years, and we’re launching our next Women Mentoring Men Program this Fall. We’d love to have you join us. To learn more, click here.