Mentoring scheme will help women make the leap to CEO or a place in the boardroom.

As senior women managers continue to make slow progress in getting the top jobs in corporate New Zealand, women's business groups are offering more targeted mentoring to help break down the barriers.

Mentoring is a key career-enhancing strategy for women for three reasons, says Galia BarHava-Monteith, co-founder of women's networking group Professionelle.

"Women start work with a disadvantage as they are faced with more career development issues than men," says BarHava-Monteith, who made mentoring the theme for a workshop the group ran in Christchurch this year.

Internationally and locally, women report similar barriers to career development, she says. They face a lack of access to high profile, testing opportunities, they are working in male-dominated environments and hit career dead-ends when, because of life circumstances, they opt for part-time roles.

"A woman's career is a labyrinth - not a ladder. Women face different career challenges than men do, often from very early on in their careers," says BarHava-Monteith. "A skilled and knowledgeable mentor can play a vital role in helping women negotiate the labyrinth of their career and leadership roles."

Women tend to lack political awareness, placing all their eggs in the one basket of "working hard to deliver great results", which they see as the path to recognition and promotion, adds the executive coach.

The high-level women's networking group, NZ Global Women, has just launched the Women in Leadership BreakThrough Leaders programme in a bid to develop future women leaders. Jenny Shipley is the programme director and Mary Devine a member of the advisory committee.

Devine, a Meridian Energy board director, says she sees a real need for the programme: "It's simple, women on their way to the top don't have as many role models as men on their way up do. Men are surrounded by it so much more."

While a number of NZ Global Women members will be called upon as mentors to the 25 women being selected, male mentors will not be ignored, says Devine.

The successful 25 candidates will already be working in large organisations, whether in the private sector, the public service or in not-for-profit organisations. They will be no lower than two positions down from a CEO, typically in their 30s or 40s, and their aspirations will be to head a large organisation or become a board director. PricewaterhouseCoopers, Fonterra, Telecom, Westpac and IAG are the five pathfinder foundation members for the programme and some are recommending members of staff for it.

There are four key strands to the programme, starting with giving the women the technical skills to become senior management or board members - workshops on financial and governance knowledge. They will also learn about leadership development, personal style and leadership capability. Then they will have mentoring with a relevant NZ Global Women member. Finally, the women will receive one-on-one executive coaching.

The thoroughness of the programme is necessary, says Devine. "These women are very good calibre, but some have still got to get through to the next layer.

The 12-month programme is setting out to give them an understanding of that next level up and "how to play the game", says Devine. "We are taking someone on a journey."

"If you look at the credentials and what they have achieved, it's impressive, yet the confidence factor does not come through," says the director of the programme's applicants. The next layer up is harder, says the former EziBuy CEO. "You do have to network and be more effective in selling yourself."

"The other thing is, without doubt, there is still a boys' network," she says. The women will learn why mentoring is important. "You do need to understand the tactics for that next level. It's the softer skills, not the competencies," says Devine.

The sooner women receive mentoring the better, argue organisations such as Professionelle. The YWCA has been running its Future Leaders Programme for nine years, aimed at girls aged between 14-18 from low decile schools who have been identified as potential leaders. Their mentors are a range of women from business, the arts, to stay-at-home mothers.

"We are about empowering women. We are moving a small group of girls a long way in four years," say the Future Leaders Programme co-ordinator, Kathryn Doughty.

The development workshops the girls go through are exposing them to wider experiences than those they would encounter normally, she says. There's a lot of goal setting and action programmes, a lot of confidence building, relationship building and an emphasis on active leadership.

"It's encouraging them to lead in their communities and family groups. And it's not just changing these girls' lives, it's a generational change. Some are the first females in their families to go to university," says Doughty.

Gael McNally, an account manager at NZ Starch, is mentoring 17-year-old Danielle who is deputy head girl at Auckland Girls Grammar. McNally is proud that Danielle has been trying to change some things at the school. "She's stepping up, she's shared what she sees going on, she's taking responsibility."

The AGG student was chosen to speak at the YWCA's 125th anniversary dinner this week in front of guests including former Prime Minister Helen Clark and former executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund, Ann Veneman.

Education is key, says Veneman. "I spend a lot of time with younger people, trying to help fulfil that role as a mentor. It's important for young women to have role models to see that women can succeed in different kinds of jobs."

Still lagging

* Only 8.65 per cent of directors of NZ's top 100 companies are women (US: 14.8 per cent; Norway: 37 per cent)

* 60 per cent of NZ's top 100 companies have no women directors (Britain: 24 per cent)

* Only one of New Zealand's top 100 CEOs is a woman, and only 14.5 per cent of senior management teams

* 34 per cent of Crown company directors are women, but this proportion is slipping

* 23 per cent of public sector CEOs are women

Source NZ Global Women