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April 27, 2010One of the world’s first mentors was a woman. Aptly, her name was Mentor.

When Odysseus went to fight the Trojan War, he left the education of his son, Telemachus, to his old friend Mentor. What he didn’t know was that Mentor was actually Athena in disguise. As Mentor, she schooled and protected Telemachus. With her guidance, he went on to find his father and later to rule Ithaca.

Female mentors aren’t just the stuff of Greek mythology. You can also change a life by mentoring a man.

Catalyst research shows that men who have been mentored by women are more likely to be aware of the hurdles women face in the workplace. In turn, they can become advocates for equality and more committed to initiatives that eliminate barriers.

We are all shaped by our personal experiences. Being mentored by a woman or having a close working relationship with a woman can make a difference.

This message hit home for me when I recently heard from a man who worked for me over ten years ago when I was CEO of AltaVista. Now a senior executive at a major global technology company, he volunteered to sponsor his division’s women’s initiative. He later told me when the women in the group asked him why he stepped up, he said he had worked for some very good women in his life— including me!—who had been his mentors.

Frankly, I’d never thought of myself as a mentor to men. I thought we had a good relationship and that I was a decent role model. All of that apparently had an impact on him.

Men are speaking up about women mentors. Frank J. McCloskey, Vice President of Diversity at Georgia Power, owes his awareness of gender inequity to the women around him. During his talk at the Catalyst Awards Conference, he told the women in the audience: “Even if your supervisor has a bias, think about how to create a relationship.” He added: “If you can just get one or two of several hundred to understand [gender inequity]—that’s a success. They might impact millions.”

One man can act as a catalyst for change. Mentoring a man is a great way to start the chain reaction.