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Behind every man, there's a woman mentor

Male professionals need to start sharing the stories of the women who inspired them not named “mom.”

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Much has been written about the importance of mentoring in business — from the need for older executives to mentor the next generation of leaders as baby boomers and Gen Xers retire in droves and leave a leadership vacuum in their wake, to reverse mentoring wherein older workers learn a thing or two from their younger counterparts about the value of 21st-century employment trends like flexible working arrangements and culturally conscious workplaces.

It’s also vitally important for young female workers to have examples of successful female leaders to look toward when shaping their own careers, as female leadership is still sorely lacking across many business sectors. Nearly half of women report not having access to the kind of senior leaders who could serve as effective mentors, according to a global survey by leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder.

However, while we often stress men mentoring women and women mentoring women, we rarely consider how impactful women mentoring men can be. In order to diversify leadership in the modern workplace, we’ll need to hear more from women who are mentoring men as well, contends executive coach Rania Anderson in a recent Harvard Business Review column.

“The reality is that just as women benefit from male mentors, sponsors, and allies, men also gain from the mentorship, leadership, and sponsorship of women,” Anderson writes. “But stories about women leaders are scarce, and they often narrowly focus on how women help each other. Even more rare are examples of the positive impact women leaders have on the careers and business of men. This imbalance reinforces negative bias about the ability of women to lead and contributes to the scarcity of women at the top.”

There’s value in sharing stories like these about the women leaders who inspire us, particularly men. Hopefully, in time, it won’t be such a novel idea.

In my first job in journalism as a reporter for The Monroe Times in Monroe, Wisconsin, I was hired by Judie Hintzman, who was at that point in her career stepping down as editor-in-chief of the newspaper but staying on in a sort of emeritus role for another year or so.

Judie was a blunt editor with a withering stare that could freeze you in your tracks if you misstepped, a wry sense of humor, and a dry, raspy laugh that was infectious. I learned as much from her patient, detailed lessons as I did from just being in her orbit.

Judie instilled in me a respect for the craft of reporting and the service a journalist does for the people he or she writes about that I carry with me to this day. She also taught me how to write for the lowest member of my audience while still not dumbing anything down, as well as how to strive for perfection while accepting that mistakes still happen — so admit to them, correct them, and move on.

Judie reminded me a lot of my favorite English professor at Augustana College, Dr. Nancy Huse, with whom I had a love-hate relationship. Dr. Huse never pulled any punches and she pushed me to be a better writer, something I bristled at often until I realized it was because she saw more potential in me than I knew I had. There was no denying that when I heeded her suggestions, my writing improved. More than that, I learned to never stop digging deeper and asking more questions, a quality that has also made me a better informed, more active citizen.

Judie and Dr. Huse didn’t know I considered them mentors. Having passed, they never will. However, my career is better because of them and the lessons they taught me with equal parts force and compassion.

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