Why mentoring is vital to developing female leaders

Written by
Karam Filfilan

03 Jan 2017

03 Jan 2017 • by Karam Filfilan

The Middle East is missing a tremendous growth opportunity by under-employing its female workforce. According to McKinsey’s 2015 Power of Parity research, women in the Middle East and North Africa contribute just 18% of the region’s GDP despite making up 50% of the working population. Bridging this gender gap could contribute an additional 47% of annual GDP – or $2.7tn by 2025.

It should come as no surprise that many of our organisations are looking at how they can develop female talent and leaders. But is enough being done? 

“To be honest, I don’t think companies are doing enough internally to develop talent,” says Gabriele Metz. All technology companies have a focus on developing gender diversity, but realistically there are only so many people in the talent pool.” 

“This forces companies to look internally and ask ‘are we doing enough with our talent?’ I think more needs to be done.”

Female mentoring

Heading up talent management in Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, Metz is responsible for developing more than 3,500 Ericsson employees across the GCC. Her primary focus has been on developing the organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda, looking at three key areas: nat i o n a l i t y, generational differences and gender. 

“Our biggest talent imbalance is on the gender side. Our customer base is much more diverse than we currently are, so increasing our gender diversity – both from recruitment and talent development aspects – is a key performance indicator,” she says. 

A driver for Metz has been increasing the presence and capabilities of female leaders. Ericsson runs an annual group mentoring circle for 56 high-potential female employees. 

Now in its second year, the programme is divided into two training dimensions – mentoring and coaching. The mentoring dimension brings all 56 mentees together for four training sessions, with the overarching aim of building knowledge and skills to develop their careers at Ericsson while also giving them the self-confidence to do so. 

Mentees take part in sessions on Ericsson’s diversity agenda, the opportunities available to them through internal talent development processes, gender differences and unconscious bias, before consolidating their learning in a final group project. Each session lasts 90 minutes, with an hour’s speech, followed by 30 minutes of group discussion. 

“These sessions are all about developing guidelines that enable our women to be empowered at Ericsson,” says Metz. 

“We want to strengthen the network of our mentees, which is key to success. Women develop networks differently to men, so the mentoring sessions help them to work on the actions they need to take to meet like-minded people,” she adds. 

Alongside mentoring sessions, Ericsson also offers coaching circles in smaller groups of eight, focusing on self-development. Mentees take four sessions, looking at growing their self-awareness, mapping out their future career paths, creating their own vision, and building self-esteem. They also benefit from question and answer sessions with female role models from within Ericsson, including at least one event with a Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 2000) female leader – the generation in which all the mentees were born. 

Importantly, Ericsson also provides separate workshops for the line managers of the mentees. 

“They play an important part in sponsoring this talent, so they need to learn about unconscious bias and cultural differences in order to support the growth of female talent,” argues Metz.

Why female leaders matter to Ericsson

Metz is candid about what success would look like for the scheme. While Ericsson’s head of group function HR, Bina Chaurasia, has talked about a target of a 30% female workforce by 2020 (Ericsson was at 22% in 2015), Metz emphasises that the mentoring programme is a long-term initiative. 

“This is about empowering and developing women for future leadership positions, it’s not just about what will happen next year. Some participants are early in their careers, it would be unrealistic to expect immediate results, but over the next two-to-three years, we expect to see more women moving from individual contributor roles into leadership positions.” 

Metz has also been keen to take on board lessons from the previous year’s intake. Ericsson had previously pre-selected participants in key positions that it wanted to develop as female leaders. However, this resulted in a 50% dropout rate. 

“One key thing we learned was that you can’t force someone into development. The motivation has to come from within,” she says. 

This year, Ericsson decided to open up the programme to volunteers rather than pre-selecting, with just two criteria. First, participants had to be from the Generation Y demographic and early in their careers, and second, their performance had to be of a certain standard. 

“We made it clear what the journey was and that we expected them to see it through to the end, which is why we purposely opened it up to Gen Y,” explains Metz.

Why is the Middle East wasting half its talent?

The idea of female empowerment as a journey is one in which Metz believes – and one she insists the Middle East is only beginning. Despite this, there are several starting points HR leaders can adopt to improve diversity. 

“Look internally and critically at your talent pool. Look at how you can develop this better and find key sponsors of female talent. Teach hiring managers about the differences between women and men to eliminate bias as much as possible,” she advises. 

“Change is all about addressing the fact that we do not have a balanced workforce. If we learn to manage the people side of change properly, we’ll adapt faster to the changing world.”