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How to Grow More ‘Best and Brightest’

Commentary: Strategic mentoring for women offers great potential payoffs to radio companies

“Talentship” is a prime concern for many industries. It is incumbent upon organizations to find and develop the people who will be its future leaders.

For radio, the focus on talent development primarily has been on the on-air side. But are we as proactive as we should be as an industry in developing leaders — particularly female leaders — in radio station sales and management?

Consolidation has made it more difficult for women to achieve executive positions in radio because there are fewer of those positions to be had.

According to the April 2009 Mentoring and Inspiring Women Gender Analysis, female general managers have risen from 11.1 percent in 1995 to 15.8 percent in 2008, while female program directors have risen from 8.2 percent in 1995 to 10.9 percent in 2008.

Mentoring and Inspiring Women member Joan Gerberding states:

If station managers had this little amount of growth in their revenues over a 10-year period, they would not keep their jobs. Yet we accept it in areas of diversity growth. Now on the bright side, since 1995, there has been a 21 percent increase in female general sales managers. In fact, women account for nearly one-third of all general sales managers of all radio stations in the country. Clearly we (women) can bring the money in.

Simply getting more women in the managerial pipeline is not enough to ensure that more women will achieve executive positions or even be in the candidate pool for those positions.

In the bottom-line corporate world we live in, many executives are judged upon their ability to increase profitability, revenue and value for their ownership group(s) and shareholders. These executives must not only show value to the company but create value for the company.

What matters most for women who aspire to executive positions is not to be judged by their gender but to be judged by their ability to show and create value for their organization.

I believe mentoring is an important tool for the radio industry to adopt to help it grow but to also identify and develop talented leaders. At present, more men than women are in the managerial pipeline. That is a problem for radio as we seek to overcome economic and competitive challenges, as half of our available leadership talent is being kept “on the bench.”

Everyone benefits

Mentoring in an organization is a private relationship between two individuals based on a mutual desire for development toward an organizational objective.

The mentoring relationship does not involve formal reporting and in no way infringes on any of the organization’s existing communication channels, protocol or hierarchical structures.

A mentor is defined as an experienced, productive manager who relates well to a less-experienced employee and facilitates his or her personal development for the benefit of the individual and the organization.

Mentoring to success is, as yet, a largely unexplored arena for organizations. Within the context of relationships and achievement, mentoring can be particularly beneficial for women and organizations as a whole.

Companies like Fannie Mae have discovered that mentoring is good for business. At Fannie Mae, women account for 60 percent of the participants in their mentoring program.

Fannie Mae mentoring program manager Cecilia Blacutt states:

A main goal of our program is to advance highly qualified employees, particularly women and minorities. Our program provides the opportunity to develop skills and address personal and professional growth. Mentoring helps employees work smarter, develop themselves and become better at their jobs. And this means more productivity and happier employees to Fannie Mae.

Though mentoring programs pose significant challenges for organizations, the organization is better off with mentoring than without.

The author of a new book about ‘glass ceilings’ argues that radio organizations must become champions and advocates for its best and brightest people, regardless of gender. The career and psychological benefits women obtain from a mentoring relationship increase the likelihood that they will receive the support and cooperation of peers and subordinates. These benefits increase the protégé’s probability of success in the organization. Also, mentoring reduces job stress experienced by professional women who frequently do not have a peer group within the organization to rely on for psychological support.

Internal champions

There are two types of mentoring: grooming and networking.

Grooming-mentoring is the special assistance provided by an older, more experienced professional who grooms his or her protégé during a transitional period. This assistance enhances fast movement up the career ladder for a protégé.

Networking-mentoring, by contrast, entails more flexible and mutually interdependent patterns of training, information sharing and support. Networking-mentoring is characterized by a series of contacts between two or more people in which each plays the role of mentor and protégé at different times and to different degrees. Networking mentors can come from inside or outside organizations, making them company and industry friendly.

Both grooming-mentoring and networking-mentoring are effective methods with which to help employees achieve career goals. The mentor adds instant credibility to the promising executive in the eyes of promotion-deciding executives. The mentor becomes an internal champion for the protégé. This internal champion fights for and argues on behalf of the protégé.

It is vital for women to have a network of “internal champions,” given the lack of women in executive positions across the business landscape. The difference with the “internal champions” of networking-mentoring is the definition of “internal”: Internal champions are a network of industry champions.

Whichever type of mentoring you would choose to utilize for your radio station/group, it is important to recognize that no good will come from leaving half of our best minds and talent on the sidelines.

We must become champions and advocates for our best and brightest people in radio, regardless of gender. The initial efforts on mentoring initiatives should be focused on those individuals who will help increase our ratings but our revenues as well: women.

Dr. Eric Shoars’ forthcoming book “Women Under Glass: The Secret Nature of Glass Ceilings and the Steps to Overcome Them” is available for purchase;