In a Christian context it is often assumed that mentor and mentoree will be of the same sex. If the relationship is mainly focused on discipleship or spiritual direction, or the mentoree can find someone who is ‘further ahead’, that’s great. But many women find that if they want a mentor to be someone they aspire to be in five or 10 years’ time, then it may be hard to find a suitable woman. There seem to be far more women wanting to be mentored than there are senior women willing and able to be mentored.
It may be difficult to find a woman who is more experienced in character, competence and experience, and who understands the particular challenges which the mentoree is bringing. As one woman in senior leadership writes: ‘There are some wonderful women with very humble, Christ-like maturity and wisdom in the Church, but very few in the generation above me who have ‘got’ (if I can express it that way) serving and living as a leader in the church. They therefore have had little understanding and experience that I could draw upon.’
In a business context, many women, especially those aspiring to more senior potions would see it as entirely normal to be mentored by a man, and this is the solution which some Christian women choose. If this seems appropriate for you, it would be sensible to ensure you make some extra safeguards:
• Both parties inform their spouses (if relevant) or close Christian friends of their relationship and purpose.
• Both parties commit to meeting in public places only, and not in private homes.
• Both parties welcome regular enquiries from some outside person as to the state of the relationship.
• Both parties consider of the mentoring might work well if one or two others were involved.
Which brings us to the other option: peer mentoring. This is ‘an equal relationship between two people who value and respect each other and believe each can enrich the other’ (John Mallison). The relationship is usually less formal and more flexible than the mentor/mentoree relationship. Often it simply involved making more of a present friendship, while retaining the enjoyable, easygoing fun dimension of a close friendship. This readily available form of mentoring is often overlooked.
By becoming more intentional in a friendship, two people can be very effective mentors for each other. It may be good to make specific times for the mentoring conversations, and being committed to move deeper than you may normally be. Consider whether there is any fear or pride, which may be a barrier. But avoid being too intense; conversations can be carried on while doing some of the things you enjoy doing together: having a meal, walking, playing sport and relaxing afterwards.
Group mentoring can also be very effective, especially if the focus is towards skills. Care must be taken to have clear expectations and boundaries, to prevent it becoming another version of a small group. Three or four people is an ideal number.
A specific form of group mentoring, useful for some contexts, is the use of Action Learning Sets. These involve a group of four to six people who commit to meeting and taking it in turns to present an issue to the rest of the group, who then help the presenter work on it. Further details about Action Learning Sets area available from 3D coaching, a coaching and training agency which has worked with individual women clergy and groups of women in some dioceses.
Issues for Women
The subject of whether there are significant differences between the way men and women lead and minister is a minefield! Nevertheless there do seem to be particular issues which women leaders commonly face, which could be explored in a mentoring relationship.
In Carson Pue’s book, Mentoring Leaders, Gretchen Englund, who also works with Arrow in the US, writes this:
'Even the most confident-appearing woman can struggle with a sense of low self-esteem. Stemming from one’s skewed view of God’s acceptance and delight in her, she questions her won worth and doubts who she is. She is a called woman leader who is clearly called of God, but who inwardly struggles with questions of self-doubt, personal shame, and quietly wonders whether God’s delight in her is really true…
Women leaders – again because of the many layers of a woman’s life – need to address their inner anxiety before they can freely move onto the next level… Women can have an internal tornado, full of questions and unfinished business: Am I ok? Am I really competent? What about being single? Are my kids doing well? Does my husband find delight in me? Am I doing life right?…'
Other issues may include:
• Coping with discrimination, open or hidden, towards a woman in her ministry position.
• Wrestling with ‘What does it mean to be a woman in ministry?’
• Collaborative skills may be unrecognised and unrewarded
• Women feel excluded form informal networks
• Lack of role models
• Lack of a clear road map for being a successful woman leader (or a leader at all)
• Competing expectations – juggling home and work responsibilities
• Handling ambition
• Handling positive and negative feedback
• Different norms apply to women in demonstrating vulnerability
• Coping with loneliness: in ministry, at home or both
• Appropriate assertiveness in a Christian context where this is perceived negatively
Variations between women are greater than variations between the sexes; we need to be aware of stereotypes, but these points may alert us to issues which might otherwise be overlooked, especially when the don’t appear in most books on mentoring.
From the Awesome/CPAS booklet An introduction to Mentoring. Produced for Awesome by Rosie Ward, Leadership Development Adviser, CPAS. © CPAS 2006. Used with permission.