With all of the issues surfacing regarding past sexual harassment and sexual assaults being brought up, we have noticed more men being hesitant working around female co-workers. Managers and supervisors are keeping their eyes open (which is a good thing) for unintended consequences based on new policies and working relationships that previously may have been relaxed.
Across the nation various states are adopting legislation forcing employers to conduct more training in a number of areas including sexual harassment for managers and employees alike. Not a bad thing. Some employers had already been training and educating their workforce however, some males are developing concerns about engaging in mentoring relationships with female employees. Companies are losing the benefit of employees sharing valuable experiences and lessons because communications are stifled. But, mentoring is as important today as ever—for both males and females. Just think about the many mentors (including of the opposite sex) who have helped you along the way.
While remaining sensitive to harassment issues, employers must challenge employees’ tendencies to simply retreat. Educate employees about the importance of mentoring relationships and appropriate boundaries. Here are a few common-sense tips for mentoring relationships:
- Be smart about it. Meet in public places. This may include the corner coffee shop or a windowed conference room at the office. Be transparent about where the meetings occur.
- Meet at a respectable hour. Have you heard the saying, “Nothing good ever happens after 12:00 am?” Similarly, a good rule for mentors/mentees is to avoid meeting one-on-one at night. Try to schedule meetings in the morning or during work hours. Only rarely schedule a meeting for after work and, if it is necessary, immediately after work. Keep in mind, alcohol gets blamed for a number of things but will not let you off the hook.
- Focus on work issues. What are the mentee’s goals? What obstacles is the mentee currently facing in the workplace?
- Again, focus on work issues. As a mentor, be very careful not to discuss physical appearance or family responsibilities. Remember, the value in mentoring comes from the ability to learn and grow from what is happening at work, not at home. Leave broader life coaching to life coaches.
- Mentoring is admittedly tricky. A mentor is not a supervisor and is not conducting an appraisal. Discussions are more wide-ranging than when a manager is completing a performance evaluation. Yet, mentoring is critical to developing your workforce. Don’t let the fallout from the “Me-Too” movement create a backlash where avoiding working with females then presents other issues such as “bullying” (leaving others out) or gender based lawsuits. Simply act professionally and everything should be fine.