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Why I'm not keen on mentoring

Woman with an umbrella against a yellow wooden background

I would walk down the stairs, past the notice board and there it would have pride of place.

The Women's Mentoring scheme.

What they meant to say with this (with all the best intentions) was this:

'We recognise that women are at a disadvantage here. So we've set up this amazing new scheme so that women can get the mentoring and support they need.'

Call me cynical ('Cynical!') but what I read was this:

'Look at us!', I read.

'We recognise that women are at a disadvantage here.

When you sit in our restaurant you will only see men. We have created a completely male culture. A culture of men doing manly things.

But we recognise that we can't say that anymore. In actual fact, we recognise that there are lots of women who could do our job just as well as we can.

So we thought we'd help them. We set up this scheme. So that they can adjust to our culture. So that they can get ahead. So that they can survive, and - who knows - they may even thrive.

Come and join this mentoring scheme! We'll tell you how things work around here!'

I've thought about this. You can tell, can't you.

You see, when I first set up my coaching business I played with the idea of calling my niche 'women empowerment'. I decided against it.

Because what it implies to me is this:

You need empowering.

You need mentoring, looking after, telling how to do things. You need to be different to survive in a culture which essentially was not built for you.

I had a long conversation about this with a fellow coach a couple of years ago.

Her view? That we are such a long way off gender equality at work that we need to play the game to (more or less) 'infiltrate' the higher ranks in existing businesses.

That when there are enough women in the higher echelons things will change. A bit like a Trojan horse, smuggled into the C-suite.

Let's disguise women as men, and then change things from the inside out.

Is that what empowerment is? To learn to play the game? And play it until things change?

According to the Women @ Work report by Deloitte there are more senior women leaving those positions than ever before. Tired of the game. No longer willing to play it. Burnt out.

According to the UN it's going to take 144 years until there is gender equality.

So my question is: Is it working yet?

The question also is: do you actually NEED empowering?

What do we actually MEAN by empowering?

'Make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights' is what I found online.

So, let's unpick:

  • Making someone stronger and more confident

Can you actually MAKE someone stronger? Because from where I'm sitting you ARE pretty strong! You've got great skills and strengths. You're itching to show the world what you can do. But you're frustrated because the ENVIRONMENT you're doing it in may be wrong.

Oh, and confidence? Can you MAKE someone more confident? Sure, if you are learning new skills and you haven't used them yet you may feel unsure of yourself.

But 'making' someone more confident?

YOU make YOURSELF confident. By trying new things. By adopting a new attitude. By going out there in the world and taking steps forward. Every. Single. Day.

Not waiting until *someone* MAKES you confident or confidence somehow lands in your lap by some sort of magic.

The author Ian Richardson* says that your beliefs on if you Can Do something and if - when you do that thing - something Can Happen will determine your level of confidence.

So if you have the skills and strengths to do something the environment may be such that STILL nothing changes.

Again, there's no mentoring scheme or 'empowerment' programme that will help you solve that. (However, you may be able to - or in a position to - INFLUENCE an environment to change).

  • Especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights

Ha! NOW we're getting somewhere. Because you do. You DO have control over your life. You do have the power to decide what to do. To accept the situation you're in, to influence your environment and claim your rights, or to control what you can control. Which is you, and how you act and react to things.

It is also in your power to leave. To figure out what's important to you, and what you're GREAT at. To find out what you want to do. To find a place where you feel a sense of belonging.


Yes, it's empowering to feel that you're the creator of your life.

To take little steps forward, even if you're scared. To find your place and do what you love.

It's empowering to learn to recognise and manage your emotions and try on new (leadership) skills.

Do you need someone else to empower you?

I believe you've got all the power within you. It may just be your environment that needs to change for you to thrive.

I believe that you don't need empowering. It's why I'm not keen on mentoring.

Because I believe that your power will know no bounds once you have figured out what you want, when all barriers to change have been removed, when you see RESULTS from your endeavours.

And I'm here for THAT.


Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful transitions to careers of Freedom, Flexibility and Fulfilment! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler.

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