Despite its hierarchical command structure, readers of business and leadership books will know that the military can be a surprisingly progressive institution. A new book from two professors from the U.S. Naval Academy continues the tradition of daring and innovating leadership thinking emerging from the armed forces. Athena Rising is a book about mentoring women that is specifically intended for men. According to the two (male) authors — Brad Johnson is a professor of psychology while David Smith is an associate professor of sociology — men in the workplace have an obligation to mentor women and are failing badly.
If Not Men, Who?
Johnson and Smith argue that men need to step up for the simple reason that men are in a better position to mentor high-potential women leaders. The legacy of male domination in business and other domains means that currently there are many more men in positions of authority who can help women with their careers.
An extreme example of this situation is the efforts of Virginia Brodie, a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Although only 5 feet 2 inches tall, Brodie decided that she would be one of the first female Marine officers in a combat leadership role in the history of the corps. The authors detail the various men — starting with her father and including a highly supportive classmate, many of the male officers and professors at the Naval Academy and even her rowing coach — who helped Brodie achieve her goal. “As she reflects on the people who inspired, affirmed, prepared and championed her to be one of the first women ever to enter the ranks of Marine Artillery, Virginia is acutely aware that her success is due to more than her own grit and singular determination,” write the authors. “In Virginia’s mind, her success is also due to men who have mentored her at critical moments along the way.”
Unfortunately, the authors write, a number of issues are making men reluctant to become mentors to women. “The elephant in the room,” as the authors call it, is the issue of sexual attraction (and the authors are clear that the problem is men being attracted to women and not the other way around). In a frank and fascinating chapter, the authors declare that it’s time for men to be “thoughtful cavemen.” In other words, even if biology (including neurobiology) and socialization might conspire to focus men on the physical attractiveness of women, there is no reason or excuse that men cannot set aside such thoughts and focus instead on what is important in the context of work.
46 Things To Do Right
Having put all of the issues, including the uncomfortable ones, on the table, the authors lay out in the second part of the book exactly how men should become better mentors. The specific recommendations within the chapters are numbered, with the numbering moving from chapter to chapter. The end result is a “manual” with 46 steps for men to become successful mentors of women.
In this section, the authors focus on how men can help women in the areas of personal growth and professional growth. First, however, they start with a chapter on preliminaries, such as “#2. Confront your own gender biases.” In a subsequent chapter, they guide their male readers in developing better relationships with the women they want to mentor (e.g., #9. Listen and #10. Let her decide rather than making assumptions).
The chapters on professional growth (e.g., #27. Brag about her in public, correct in private), personal growth (e.g., #37. Champion her assertiveness) and a final chapter on what not to do (e.g., #43. Don’t be a benevolent sexist) close out this straightforward, no-nonsense and practical guide. A remarkable book, Athena Rising benefits greatly from the in-depth knowledge of its authors (both have contributed numerous journal articles and book chapters in their fields and reference a variety of sources in their book) and, just as important, from their clear-headed, no-holds-barred honesty about gender issues.
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