I’m a feminist. I attended an all-women’s college. I work for an all-female communications firm. I volunteer for a female-focused non-profit. I am, in essence, pro-women. I believe that all women should negotiate for higher pay, ask for more opportunity, and advocate for themselves in whatever field they wish to succeed in—and not only do I believe this, I have implemented this. Why? Because I have had some incredible mentors who have not only empowered me, but have advocated for me on countless occasions. Some of my best mentors, in fact, have been male.
According to LeanIn’s #MeToo study, 60 percent of male managers feel uncomfortable interacting with (and mentoring) women in the workplace, and senior-level men are 12-times more likely to hesitate having one-on-one meetings with junior-level women. Though I understand sexual harassment is still a major problem for many women in the workforce, I hope that we can reconsider the way we view male mentorship.
I have been lucky to work with many professional, successful, and supportive male managers. Because of these experiences, I have learned the following:
You belong at the table
My male manager encouraged me, from day one, to ask questions, to join meetings, to listen to calls, to speak up. He pushed me to learn any aspect of the industry that interested me and on one-on-one meetings, no work question was left unanswered. We talked about work strategies. We talked about upper management. We talked about the problems facing the company. And we talked about opportunities and ways I could grow within the department.
At out-of-office work events, this male manager not only welcomed me into conversations with other top-level employees, but he encouraged me to interact with everyone from the sales staff to the CEO. And thanks to this, I made myself known. When I reached four years with the company, nearly everyone knew my name. He taught me that I didn’t need an invite to the table; I belonged there.
Your work/life balance isn’t up for negotiation
One Friday night, I was working late, handling a project for the VP of my department. My manager had already left for the night and when I saw him on Monday, he said, straight-faced, “Don’t ever work that late on a Friday again.” If a project came up, he told me to go through him first.
I have since worked late on Fridays and I have worked on weekends, but here’s what I learned during those years under his leadership: My work/life balance isn’t up for negotiation. All of my male managers recognized that I had a life outside work, and they reminded me to cherish that time. They didn’t boast hours spent in the office. They, instead, talked about the importance of life outside work. They spent Saturdays at the park with their daughters. They spent weeknights going to events in the city. They took their vacation days, without guilt. And they asked me about my interests and supported my pursuit in them.
Read more: The Myth of the Female Boss
Your mistakes don’t define you
I remember the first time going to my male manager with a major problem. I had quoted a client the wrong number and was about to cost the company money. I admitted that the mistake was solely my fault and he said, “Okay, let’s find a way to fix it.” He didn’t condemn me. He didn’t harp on the mistake. He simply acknowledged that it was a problem and immediately shifted to the solution.
Thanks to this mentorship, I have never let a work situation overwhelm me—and I have never cried in the office (though there’s nothing wrong with that!).
Whenever I make a mistake (which happens all the time), I do three things: I acknowledge fault, I determine how the problem happened, and I quickly look for the best solution. And when the problem is really big, I take a walk (seriously).
We all make mistakes; it’s inevitable. I have learned that how we respond to mistakes is how we learn to succeed.
You deserve what you earn
It’s easy to be a go-getter, to show up early, stay late, and to overextend yourself saying “yes” to everything, but here’s what I learned from my male manager: the work speaks for itself. Staying late to stay late doesn’t make a difference. Working when everyone else has gone home doesn’t make your a better employee. Your job is to do the job well, regardless of the hours required.
Quality over quantity, no matter what. When you put in quality work, you deserve recognition and you should feel confident asking for it.
On my first work anniversary, my male managers pointed out the additional responsibilities I had taken on since taking the position. They encouraged me to highlight these, and ever since, I have learned to use concrete examples to advocate for promotions. Any work that is done outside the scope of your job responsibilities is work that deserves recognition.
A few years into that job, I got invited to an overseas work conference, on behalf of another department within the company. I took the opportunity and worked after-hours to learn new things. I got the chance to travel to Europe for free and to show my skills and my value to the company. When I returned, I asked for a bonus, arguing that I had successfully completed a job that wasn’t in my scope of work. They agreed, and I got paid for the experience. I would have never asked, had my male managers not encouraged me to ask for more.
We rise by lifting others
Female mentors are wonderful and important, but as I have learned, so are male mentors. Not only do we need to prioritize mentorship in the workplace, but we need to encourage males to keep mentoring women. Mentorship of any kind is invaluable, but the mentorship I have received from many of my male managers has, no question, made me a more valued, successful, and empowered employee—and for this, I am so grateful.
Read more: The Myth of the Female Boss