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How men can step up and help women get ahead at work

May 19, 2015, 6:00 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important to have a mentor? is written by Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University.

As an attorney who has worked in public policy, government, finance, and now as president of a university–all fields dominated by men–I have faced my fair share of workplace challenges. But along the way, I wouldn’t have gained the confidence to achieve success without a strong mentor in my corner.

In one of my first jobs after law school, I was lucky enough to work under Federal Trade Commissioner Patricia P. Bailey, who was both my boss and mentor. As a presidential appointee in the 1980’s, she had successfully broken through the glass ceiling of what was then a very male-dominated federal government in Washington. Patricia not only served as a role model, but also actively helped me move up the ladder, ultimately leading to the leadership position I hold today.

According to a 2013 survey commissioned by Bentley University on preparedness and women in the workplace, the importance of mentorship programs is greatly underscored. Among non-millennial women who responded to the survey, 55% said women-specific corporate-mentorship programs could better help female employees succeed in business and 52% said that women-specific networking could help female workers thrive.

As women grow in their leadership capabilities and are eligible for promotions, they need someone to turn to for support in reaching that next level. Mentors can support your career ambitions and help you reach your goals by offering useful guidance and encouraging you to succeed. Additionally, having someone in your company who can act as a sponsor, directly advocating for you in terms of career advancement, is equally important.

Further, this may come as a surprise to some, but male managers and executives can be a great resource for women. While there may be some “old school” organizations that operate much the same way they did 50 years ago, with corporate structures still skewed toward working men, more and more companies are employing smart policies to retain high potential male and female talent. Indeed, the same Bentley University survey found a sizable group of men (almost 40%) agreed that male managers and executives can–and should–play a more active role in mentoring and developing women to better succeed in the business world.

Our economy is only at its best when every individual has an equal opportunity to participate. And that means helping those below you–whatever their gender–to grow and ultimately succeed in their careers.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important to have a mentor?

When it comes to mentors, the more the merrier by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Are you qualified to be a mentor? by Sarah Watson, chief strategy officer of BBH N.Y.

Is mentoring necessary for career advancement? by Teresa Briggs, vice chairman and west region managing partner at Deloitte.

Do all employees benefit from having a mentor? by Dawn Zier, president and CEO of Nutrisystem.

4 things your boss won’t tell you (but a mentor will) by Penny Herscher CEO of FirstRain.

What qualities make a good (and bad) mentor? by Karen Tegan Padir, president of application development at Progress Software.

Why mentoring is unlike any other professional relationshipby Jenni Luke, CEO of Step Up.

Why you don’t need a mentor to be successful by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

What qualities should you look for in a mentor? by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

4 things to consider before choosing a mentor by Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.

The most important quality a mentor should have by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

Why women are more likely to be mentors by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

3 reasons every employee needs a mentor by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Why this AOL executive chooses her mentors — wisely by Allie Kline, CMO of AOL, Inc.