The Guilt Volcano: Women and Mentoring

Guilt: Only one of the many reason why women need mentors

I picked up Alison Pearson’s book “ I don’t know how she does it “, the other day ,(half price at St Pancras), which I had read years ago. This was before she became a vocal right wing commentator.

In a movie of the same name somewhat incredulously the main protagonist,  a Yorkshire lass, turned London Hedge Fund Manager, has been transmuted by Hollywood into a role played by Sarah Jessica Parker.  I have yet to see this film, but it stretches the imagination somewhat.

A day in the life of a professional woman

All that aside, this novel depicts really well the daily angst that most professional women with kids go through. Although hilarious in places, there are details that most of us who have any  career aspirations can relate to. And I had great employers when my kids were young, who were incredibly supportive. They were ahead of the game in terms of facilities for working mothers, even setting up remote access via a modem which in those days was the size of a small building block with the noise connecting to the intra -net bearing more than a close facsimile to a Boeing 747 on take -off.

But I too, have made a client presentation with baby vomit on the back of my business suit.  I have looked into the wide eyes of my toddlers as I have left them to go to  the office. I have deflected the raised eyebrow “  oh..not again” looks as I explain that my son has been in yet another accident requiring emergency treatment. I almost qualified for validated parking at the local hospital, such was the regularity of the visits. Don’t worry he made it to adulthood!

Hard hat area

And this is only a tiny cross-section of the debris that falls upon the heads and shoulders of  the working mother which starts off as plumes of  hot air, but swiftly turns into ash clouds, rocks, and eventually molten lava spewing out of the guilt volcano to engulf them. What happens then? Well many, if they can afford to, opt out, but many can’t and hard choices are made within couples. If the mother is a single parent, then the balancing act is even more fragile.

For many women this is the professional danger zone. The career hard hat area.

New initiatives

Many HR policies focus on the practical aspects of encouraging women to return to work which is clearly operationally necessary.  But I was heartened to read that organisations such as Accenture, Azda ( which has recently launched  a Mum2Mum Programme)  Goldman Sachs, Citi-Bank, Sky and others,  are introducing mentoring programmes for expectant mothers matched with more senior women, who are also mothers.

Unfortunately,  these initiatives quite often stop within a year. What I would like to see is an extension of these programmes so that women mentor each other through this entire critical phase in life (which is indeed only a phase) which can last longer. This will help stem the leak in the female talent pipeline. Women look for mentors generally amongst their peers and the dearth of female senior managers very often makes it challenging for many to find one within their own organisations.

Women and mentoring

Unhappily, it can  be as difficult to persuade women to mentor other women, in the way it might be difficult to persuade the UK to enter the Euro or Augusta to admit female members.  But women need to start supporting each other at critical times. More senior women have to lose the “Suck it up, I did it the hard way” attitude, or worse still convey a message that not having a family is the only route to corporate success, sometimes failing to encourage junior women, or worse still, blocking them entirely.

Women (and men too) should be looking for new ways forward without the necessity of harsh compromises, where organisations are also the ultimate losers.

This article first appeared in the 3Plus International eGazine, an organisation set up to help women find mentors and sponsors and to support them in achieving their career goals. Contact me for further information

Updated 2021

3 thoughts on “The Guilt Volcano: Women and Mentoring

  1. perschel

    Your bring good news on several fronts, You and your son seem to have given up frequent flier status at the ER, and some companies are helping working women mothers by way of mentoring.

    I’ve had very different experiences both personally and in my work with women to help advance other women. Many, including the mentors at 3Plus, give tirelessly of their time and wisdom to support other women as mentors, as sponsors and more. I think the old “Suck it up” approach may be less prevalent than it once was.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Anne – I agree that there are women who are very generous with their time and energy to support other women. The experience we have encountered with 3Plus is a testamaent to exactly that. Sometimes it’s just about numbers -there are disproportionately fewer women at a senior level. But having said that, junior women claim to struggle to find the support that they need for one reason or another.

  2. Pingback: Why women receive confidence as arrogance - 3Plus International

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