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David Smith Episode #15 She Breaks The Mold Podcast at

Episode #15: David Smith, Co-Author Athena Rising – How and Why Men Should Mentor Women

NOTE: I’ve moved to Listen to older episodes of the She Breaks The Mold podcast here, or join me at the new site for newer episodes of the Minimalist Business Academy podcast

Episode #15: David Smith, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Sociology in the National Security Affairs Department at the United States Naval War College. His research focuses on gender, work, and family issues including dual career families, military families, women in the military, and retention of women. Dr. Smith is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters- many on the topic of gender in the workplace. A former Navy pilot, Dr. Smith led diverse organizations of women and men culminating in command of a squadron in combat and flew more than 3,000 hours over 19 years including combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With an intro like that, you KNOW this is going to be an interesting conversation.


When I started this podcast, I imagined all my guests would be women. But David breaks the mold in a unique way – as a much needed expert male voice in the gender equality conversation. I couldn’t wait to meet him and hear all about his work helping men learn how to be better allies to women at work, and how to be more effective mentors for women.

David and his co-author, Brad Johnson, wrote Athena Rising – How and Why Men Should Mentor Women when they realized many of the gender equality policies and programs being implemented by the US military weren’t working as well as expected and they began to research why. What they found was that the issues plaguing women at work across society (bias, stereotypes, discrimination) were affecting the ranks in the military as well. Their idea is that teaching men how to be effective allies and mentors to women at work will help everyone become better leaders and build stronger organizations.

The social scripts that we understand aren’t as positive as we think they are. One is father-daughter and the other is the knight in shining armour that’s going to come in and rescue the damsel in distress. But mentees don’t need to be rescued and women don’t need to be rescued. If we perceive women in this way, we’re disempowering them and undermining their ability to have opportunities, to take on challenges, and to go to that stretch assignment

The book is absolutely written by men, for men, but women who want to get a better understanding of the biases they face at work and even how to  build great mentoring relationships with men, should absolutely read it.

What you’ll learn from David in this episode:

  • David and his co-author Brad Johnson receive minor critique from both men and women about their book, but they feel they’re using their privilege and power for good and are helping other men to do the same. They don’t want to rescue women or speak for them, but teach men how to improve their working relationships with women. This is an important part of the discussion, not to be missed!
  • How a good male mentor can help a women lean into her
    courage, and even her competitiveness, while still helping her to maintain her humility and authenticity. David cites a great example here that so many women I’ve worked with (including myself!) have experienced.
  • How unconscious bias shakes up the idea of merit-based promotion and decision making.  In fact,  abundant research shows that the companies that believe they make the most merit based decisions are actually the ones suffering under the most unconscious bias and its effects.
  • When up to 50% of men are reporting being worried about mentoring women since #metoo resurfaced, how do we encourage women to seek out mentoring relationships with men, knowing half of them feel this way?
  • The pros and cons of formal vs informal mentoring programs in larger organizations
  • How, when we don’t know each other well as people, even with the best of intentions we’re likely to fill in knowledge gaps with stereotypes and assumptions that are likely wrong. Women – before you nod knowingly, know this — we do this just as often as men! David provides a great example from NASA of a hiring that almost didn’t happen because of innate gender bias.
  • Listen as I admit to my own bias by not preparing David to answer the two questions on ambition I ask EVERY female guest! I can’t believe I almost missed the opportunity to hear two of the best examples I’ve ever heard for these answers! Even if you don’t listen to the whole show – you’ll want to listen to this part of the discussion!

David is ambitious for:

Kate Germano, Author of Fight Like A Girl.(one woman’s professional battle against systemic gender bias in the Marines and the lessons it holds for all of us).

If you listen to this episode for this part of the conversation alone, you’ll learn something!

Links to organizations/articles/books mentioned in this episode:

Mentoring Women is Not About Trying To “Rescue” Them

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