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Louise Ripley

Gender Issues in Management

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statue of Mentor

In Greek mythology, when Odysseus sailed to Troy to join in the Greek assault on that city in the famous story of the Trojan horse, which he invented, he left his wife and family at home in Greece, and he left a good and trusted friend in charge of the household, and particularly to help guide and advise his son Telemachus, as he would be gone a very long time. When the goddess Athena appeared to Odysseus in his travels, she often assumed the form of this wise and trusted advisor - Mentor.

The word "mentor" has come to be used to describe a wise and trusted advisor, and it is through "mentoring" that men have traditionally climbed the ladder of success. Whether it is done on a formal or informal basis, mentoring basically involves a more experienced person helping to facilitate the development of a less experienced employee, and women who plan to make it to the top of any organization or career would do well to cultivate the guidance and sponsorship of a mentor. 

At a recent conference I attended, these were listed as things one needs and to some extent can expect from a mentor in the climb up that ladder (Myrtle Beach Emerging Issues Conference October 2002) 

Goal Clarifying
Confidence Building
Trust Building

A mentor could help you with vision and goal clarifying by sitting you down for a talk about what you really want to do with your life, and with openness and supportiveness and confidence building by taking you to lunch and gently telling you how even though you blew it at the last staff meeting, there were things that you did well.

The mentor helps the protégé achieve goals through



waving hand Exercise
Mentor Roles
Describe specifically how a mentor might help you in one of these above four roles. (e.g.: how might a mentor help teach you something useful in your job?)
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Read the case "Haywood Securities: The Mentor"

Haywood Securities: The Mentor
© M Louise Ripley

Haywood Securities was a small investment advisory firm in Calgary, founded in the 1960’s. They now employ a dozen people, eight men in the actual business of stock trading, and four women, all in staff positions. They have never had a good record on affirmative action, but, perhaps surprisingly, the one person in the company to recognize the need to promote capable women was Charles Haywood, who had recently retired, leaving his son, Jack Haywood, to run the business.

Laurie Sullivan had worked for Charles Haywood for a number of years as his secretary, and at his urging had returned to school and completed her M. B.A. and her securities license and was now serving as his Executive Assistant. As Charles spent less and less time in the office, Laurie had taken over most of his work of meeting with old and valued clients.

When he was ready to retire, Charles, knowing how eager his son was to take over the family business, said he would only go if Jack promoted Laurie to the rank of Financial Analyst and taught her the finer points of client management that he had taught Jack. Jack grudgingly appointed her, his desire to be President of the firm outweighing his resentment at having to promote and work with a woman. Laurie felt Jack’s indignation, and their sessions strained them both. He was ten years older than she, but a far greater distance than age separated them. She respected him and coveted his financial talents, but she also stood in utter awe of him. It was not the Haywood family name and their wealth that daunted her, because she experienced the problem only with Jack, never with his father. Laurie was now in her thirties, and, by almost anyone’s consideration, grown up, equally at ease handling emotionally overwrought clients, officious government representatives, or bond traders of delicate temper, but Jack somehow always managed to make her feel incompetent. She had no explanation for this; she knew he believed women to have no place in the world of finance, and she knew he resented her. If there were something more, she could not name it. She worked hard to convince him she was a serious apprentice, and he came, rather grudgingly, to acknowledge her skills and talents and even on rare occasions to praise her work.

Laurie’s greater problem was with the other employees, both male and female. The male stock and bond traders refused to accept her authority, regularly calling or emailing Jack to double-check on anything she asked of them, while the women assumed she had only been promoted because she was sleeping with Jack. Laurie decided to talk to her partner Pat about it, one night at dinner.

Laurie: I don’t know what the problem is, Pat; none of the men seems to believe I can do the work, yet I’ve been doing most of it for years, side by side with them.

Pat: But I thought you got along so well with them?

Laurie: I did, as long as I was Charles’ secretary. Even when I got my degree, and my securities license, as long as I was working as Charles’ assistant, they were more than glad even to out of their way to help me. But now that he’s gone and I’m working with Jack, I can’t get them to even say a decent ‘good-morning’ any more.

Pat: Well, what about the women? You were always good friends with them, weren’t you?

Laurie: Sure, again, as long as I was, and here she made quotation marks in the air, “just a secretary.” Now that I’m Associate V.P. and working along side Jack, the word in the rumour mill is that I only got the position because I’m sleeping with him. At this, Pat’s head went back with a raucous laugh.

Pat: Ha! If only they knew how unlikely that was!  Can you talk to him? Can he help at all in this?

Laurie: I don’t know, Pat, I just don’t know.

Pat: Do you think you’d have these same problems if your name were Leonard instead of Laurie?

Laurie: That much I do know; I’m sure I wouldn't. But that’s not going to change, is it?

This case study builds on an idea from Barbara Lyons' "General Computer" in Karsten, Foegen Margaret (1994) Management and Gender: Issues and Attitudes. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.


waving hand Exercise
FOR THE UNIT ON SOCIALIZATION: Thinking about the roles and relationships in this story: how did things get to be this way in this office?
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.


waving hand Exercise
FOR THE UNIT ON LEADERSHIP/TOPIC OF MENTORS: How specifically in the role of intervention might Charles have served as a mentor to Laurie? As the manager who supervised her, how might he have helped improve things?
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.
Help from a mentor up the corporate ladder typically happens in four stages 
Leveling the playing field
Creating acceptance and safety
Sharing advice, feedback, support
Pay-off stage: independence

one woman helping another

While proximity helps, in that the mentor is nearby and can be called on easily, one does not have to be geographically close in order to be a mentor. A few years ago, through an organization of academic women to which I belonged, I served as a mentor over a period of several years to a woman who was just starting her job as an Assistant Professor in a business school in a university in Indiana in the United States. We never met, corresponded only by email, but I was able to be of assistance to her in her fight for tenure, particularly because I was NOT close, not involved at all in the formal procedure, and was someone to whom she could turn for advice (having gone through it recently myself) and particularly for the answers to what might have appeared to her colleagues (who sat in judgment of her for the tenure process) as "stupid" questions. I was very happy to see her finally achieve her goal.

Men more typically see mentoring as task-oriented while women more typically see it as friendship-based. Feminist theory is taking mentoring to a new stage of learning collaboration, peer sharing, equality, respect, safety, trust, where the mentoring can be done in a web style rather than hierarchical (peers with different levels of experience versus Vice President/trainee). This is also happening because of the phenomenon of younger employees often being much more experienced and sophisticated in areas such as computers where an older employee may need help getting up to speed. 

people climbing a rock face

A mentor can be tremendously helpful in career planning, a process that starts with the important step of getting to know yourself. 

Method Verbiage  Action Philosophy
Wait for one to ask you "How about those Jays, eh?" Look around, maybe someone's left an old one lying about somewhere "All things come to those who wait"
Ask Directly "Yo! You! How about being my mentor?" Accost in elevator or executive washroom "Boldly is the only way to go"*

*John Furtado's Star Trek Rules for Business

Ask Indirectly "Could I ask your advice on a project I'm working on?" Pop into office for two minutes "Nothing ventured, nothing gained"
Volunteer "I hear you need volunteers for the symphony fund-raising project." By appointment, in office, by email, before meeting  "Mi casa es su casa"
Sneak up on one (silence) Watch from afar, learn, don't let on you're there

"Great White Hunter"


The Government of Canada, recognizing the need we will have soon for workers to replace the retiring Baby Boomers, has had a web site under the auspices of Canadian Information and Networking Services. The link is no longer active but it was to provide "mentoring, resources and forums that assist skilled, experienced, and expert professionals, business and trades people who are new to Canada, or are considering immigrating to Canada."  

waving hand Exercise
How would such a site be valuable to a current manager? To a current worker? 
Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

PEI important women

Women can serve as mentors of a kind even to women who have never met them and never will. This photo was taken at a convocation that took place shortly before the installation that I attended of the new President of the University of Prince Edward Island in 1995. From left to right are Chancellor Doris Anderson, Lt. Governor Marion Reid, Premier Catherine Callbeck, Minister of Higher Education Jeannie Lea, President-elect Dr. Elizabeth Epperly. These women served as role models and a great inspiration to me at a time in my career when I was feeling pretty worn-down by the old-boys-network, even though I only met them briefly in my role representing York at Dr. Epperly's installation.

As great as it is to see all women in these high-powered roles that used to be filled only by white men, we still need to recognize that we're not all represented yet: there are no women of colour here, no aboriginal women, no women with (visible) disabilities. These battles are being fought, if slowly. Where the first wave of feminism (early 1900s) sought to have women recognized as persons, the second wave (mid 1900s), sought access and equity. The third wave (starting 1990s) is  concerned with "the plurality of women and the impacts of popular culture and representation through image and words." (Ravindra Mohabeer, doctoral thesis 2006). Perhaps we will in future see more women than just the privileged white upper middle classes filling the roles that influence and provide the mentors for the next generation.

waving hand Exercise
Role Models

What women have you known who have been role models or mentors to you even though you have never met them?  

Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group.

Sheryl Sandberg's Book Lean In

waving hand Exercise
Sandberg Mentor
How does Sheryl Sandbert's book Lean In help you further understand the topic of this unit?
Post your answer in the Moodle  Discussion Group.


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AP/ADMS/WMST3120 3.0 Gender Issues in Management
York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.