The recent New York Times piece, “When You’re Replaceable and He’s Not,” explains why so many women in competitive fields have difficulty climbing up the ladder. It’s not merely a matter of not seeing yourself represented by women in similar positions, but as research has shown, men are less likely to mentor women in the workplace because of implicit bias. All of this creates a work environment where women are intimidated to ask for the help that they need, and when they do, they aren’t met by support, but by derision or harassment. Reading the New York Times article, these lines particularly stuck out to me:
“Being a young woman at the bottom rung of an influential industry, especially one where men still largely dominate, is a dizzying, terrifying thrill. Because you are trying to prove your competence in an environment where men are in charge, the early workplace interactions take on extra weight and importance.”
I’ve worked in the fields of film, journalism, and publishing, all of which are extremely competitive. In order to succeed you must be extremely knowledgeable, resourceful, confident, creative, and agile. If you ask questions, you are seen as not carrying your own weight, lazy, or not “where you should be.” This creates a culture of fear, where creatives are afraid to reach out or ask for help in fear that they will appear “dispensable.” And the guiding maxim in every industry I ever worked in was: always find a way to make yourself indispensable.
But how do you “make yourself indispensable” when the odds are stacked against you and your position by its very nature is dispensable? As I read this article, I realized that there are so many ways to discourage or destroy the dreams of young women, that we need to find an alternative to the current paradigm. What can empowering female mentorship look like?
I am very lucky to work in a female-led company where I am surrounded by reminders that yes, you can climb the ladder. I am also fortunate to have a unique position where I have creative control over what I do, how it's implemented, and who is on my team. The luxury of this does not escape me, because I’ve experienced firsthand the difference between an environment that supports female mentorship and environments that don’t.
What I’ve learned about female mentorship since working at SutherlandGold is that sometimes you have to step up to the plate, even if you feel very under-qualified. For me, I have seen several talented young women and men who have creative sides and didn’t know how to channel their creative energy. I really enjoy finding what excites people and helping them envision work they didn’t even know they could do or enjoy. Several members of our team are now helping launch influencer marketing, video marketing, and creative campaigns that harness and leverage their already existing skills in PR, video, and social media and can be used for our clients’ needs.
The leaders of our company are also very supportive of self-starters, and when they see a woman with a vision and a plan, they do everything they can to give that person the encouragement and tools that they need to make their vision a reality. This isn’t lip-service -- since I’ve started working here, the head of our creative team and I have established a blog program that has an editorial edge and focuses on how good stories are told and who is controlling the narrative. This project is my baby, and I’ve been given what I need to thrive by my agency: space, time, and encouragement. In the past, I’ve had my writing micromanaged on a sentence level, and even if I came up with ten ideas, each and every one would be shot down. At SutherlandGold, there is an explicit understanding that if you hire the right people, they will take initiative, do their jobs, and become the best leaders.
But this kind of lead by example approach doesn’t just apply to our C-suite. Several of our Account Directors are women who can multi-task, maintain industry relationships, and know how to translate their client’s goals into media coverage that give their clients the 10X factor. Additionally, they recognize the work of their teams through internal rewards systems and also shout-outs we call “Moments of Greatness” to recognize our teammates.
These might sound like small things, but these small things create a “team” environment where each of us genuinely like each other and feel like together we are accomplishing more than any of us could do alone.
These are just some of the ways that companies can create a work culture that highlight and listen to women’s voices, as well as recognizes their achievements and help mentor them. But the potential of female mentorship is something that can only be reached when those who want to be mentored have the courage to ask for help. I recognize that asking for advice when you are supposed to be an expert in your field is a very scary thing, and it puts you in a position where you can be doubted and have your authority questioned.
That being said, when you work in an environment free of gatekeeping, idea sniping, and competitiveness, you have created the kind of workplace where women looking for mentors are surrounded by people who would gladly provide the kind of career advice that they need.
The alternative to toxic work environments are the companies that challenge their implicit bias, hire women leaders, and hold women leaders accountable for creating a work culture where everyone’s contributions are recognized. The future of female mentorship is here.