For over a decade, schools have seen mentoring as playing a critical role both in fostering student success and in facilitating educators' professional development and mobility. In part because schools have been exploring new ways to address diverse student needs, an enormous amount of interest has been generated in the possibilities inherent in mentoring. Mentoring has become such a popular strategy that the view that a role model, mentor, or sponsor is necessary for success is now so widely held that it seems self-evident.1
The prototype for a mentoring relationship seems to have derived from Greek mythology. As the story goes, Odysseus, a leader in the Trojan war, entrusted the care of his son, Telemechus, to his good friend Mentor. While Odysseus was away at war, Mentor was to act as a surrogate parent, teacher, role model, advisor, guide, and counselor to the inexperienced youth.
This description of Mentor's role became the foundation for more current characterizations of the mentor relationship. Over the centuries, to talk about mentoring has meant to talk about a relationship between a young adult and an older, more experienced adult who supports, guides, and counsels as the young individual learns to navigate within the adult world.2
Though the word mentor still holds these connotations, it has also come to describe a variety of relationships that occur in different contexts and with diverse emphases.
Educational settings exhibit a variety of mentoring models designed for different purposes. A look at these models reveals programs that range from those matching students with teachers, advisors, or community leaders, to programs for supporting new teachers or helping teachers to move into administration.
Programs for students are generally designed with the goal either of helping them academically or of helping them develop strong vocational skills and contacts. Mentoring experiences for faculty on the other hand are more often designed to help educators adjust more easily to a new position-as in the case of pairing new teachers or new administrators with more experienced colleagues-or to help them gain skills and contacts to move up and out of their current positions. An example of the latter includes matching a teacher with an administrator who helps the teacher develop administrative skills.
Mentoring programs have also been used to enhance the chances of African Americans and Latinos succeeding in situations in which they have had little previous experience.3 For instance, in universities and colleges, where faculty and administrators are traditionally White and male, students of color often have less access than White students to informal networks and support. Mentoring has been seen as an effective approach towards reducing isolation and providing support for students of color.4
As a dissertation project, S. Villani conducted in-depth interviews with 9 mentors and 15 proteges in an educational setting who had been involved in mentoring relationships either during the proteges' academic lives or in the early stages of their careers. The study's findings suggest that both mentors and proteges typically viewed the mentoring relationships as influential. This was true particularly for women, who often saw themselves as needing to overcome internal barriers to the realization of their career aspirations.5
Additional studies in education have supported the notion that mentoring was beneficial in reducing the time needed for advancement into management or public school administrative positions.6
There remain, however, many unanswered questions about how, why, and where mentoring works.
The above-mentioned studies notwithstanding, there is not uniform agreement about (a) the roles a person must assume for the relationship to be identified as mentoring; (b) the difference between a mentor and a sponsor; (c) how a mentor normally selects a protege; and (d) whether mentoring occurs differently and with different results for women and minorities.7 Thus, while research identifies the nature and dynamics of established mentoring relationships, how they occur in organizations at a variety of levels, as well as the roles a mentor might assume, there is less clarity about other important issues.
As J. M. Henderson notes: "One major difficulty in drawing conclusions from the existing research [on mentoring] is the lack of a clear conceptual framework about the definition of mentoring, and the roles a mentor must assume. Because of this, there is no clear basis upon which to conduct further research.
"The research also does not address whether or not mentoring [occurs] differently in different types of organizations, and with differing results."8 Most importantly, little documentation exists which confirms the commonly held assumption that mentoring is critical for advancement into the highest levels of organizations.
Thus, despite the proliferation of research and literature on mentoring, whether or not the authors are speaking about the same phenomenon remains unclear.
An equally important issue involves cross-gender mentoring. Especially in relation with the definitional and role-related issues raised earlier, when women, and especially women of color, are considered for mentoring, distinct questions and concerns are raised. Many of these arise from uncertainties about whether the mentoring process is or should be the same or different than that for others in the organization. Conscious and unconscious stereotypes and biases add to these uncertainties.
While research findings are mixed in terms of conclusions on cross-ethnic mentoring relationships, it appears that mentors of the same ethnicity as their proteges can often offer added benefits, especially for students of color. For instance, a Latina mentor may be able to help a Latina protege resolve a discontinuity between the protege's cultural or community values and the institution's values.9 Y. T. Moses points out that "many potential mentors are unfamiliar with Black issues and women's issues and may be unable to relate to the needs of Black women students."10
On the other hand, other researchers suggest that cross-gender and cross-ethnic mentoring partnerships add other benefits. For instance, when the mentor is White and male and the protege not, the protege may have an opportunity to learn more about those who currently run educational institutions.11
Whatever may be the final assessment of these relationships, it is a fact that because White males make up the vast majority of educational administrators, cross-gender and cross-ethnic mentoring is necessary, at least in some programs. It is also true that special issues arise because of these relationships.
K. E. Kram offers one description of the psychosocial elements of a good mentoring relationship. These include role modeling, acceptance-and-confirmation, counseling, and friendship: "The junior person finds support for who he or she is becoming in a new work role that increases a sense of competence, effectiveness, and self-worth. In turn, the senior person can satisfy important needs at midlife that increase a sense of competence, effectiveness, and self-worth."12
Focusing on female-male mentoring partnerships, Kram discusses in particular the importance of role modeling, suggesting that in any junior/senior work relationship, both individuals benefit. She also stresses that the identification and transference that underlie the role modeling function are more complex in cross-gender relationships.
Some research suggests that men and women are inclined to assume stereotypical roles in relating to each other in work settings.13 Kram argues that these roles are defined by assumptions and expectations about appropriate behavior for each sex. In order to reduce the uncertainty, ambiguity, and anxiety created by the emergence of cross-gender work relationships, men and women rely on what is familiar. In doing so, they sometimes unknowingly assume traditional roles that they learned from past situations. These roles tend to constrain behavior and to reduce individual competence and effectiveness.
People perpetuate stereotypical roles because it is what they know and are most comfortable with. In developmental relationships, like mentoring, the challenge becomes devising strategies of behavior that permit men and women to interact in a variety of ways that are appropriate within a given work context.
In cross-gender developmental relationships, while women face dilemmas similar to those of their male counterparts, there are others that are unique to being female in male-dominated organizations.14
For instance, concerns about the appropriateness of a particular behavior may appear unwarranted to a male mentor who does not understand that what works for a man may not work for a woman. (The same might be said about relationships across race and ethnicity.) Concerns about balancing work and family commitments are exacerbated for women who are simultaneously advancing their careers and assuming the roles of wife and/or mother. These unique gender-related concerns make it difficult for male mentors to empathize, to provide role modeling, and to identify with their female proteges around these issues.15
Several years ago, with my colleagues Dr. Norma Mertz and Dr. Jan Henderson, I studied career advancement mentoring across three organizations: business and industry, higher education, and governmental agencies.16 One aspect of our study involved an examination of the role of gender and race in the selection of proteges and the development of the relationship.
Four issues emerged from the data. First, our findings suggest that it is difficult for some people to accept a cross-gender mentoring relationship because of a perception that the relationship may be other than professional in nature. For example, a female protege may be seen as using her physical attributes to get ahead and the male mentor as succumbing to them.
The ease with which inappropriate motives are ascribed to this kind of relationship hurts all involved-the mentor, the protege, and the organization. Stereotypes, gossip, and half-truths work to deny the competence of the protege and impugn the motives of the mentor. By implication, the ability of the protege to have secured the position on her or his merit is questioned. While most school-based mentoring programs involve students and faculty, misperceptions of the relationships cannot entirely be ignored. For example, a male counselor who takes a particular interest in the progress of a promising female student may have his motives questioned.
Risk is a second issue in cross-gender mentoring relationships. In our study, male mentors were candid about the "risks" involved in working with female proteges. Specifically, they talked about the perception that these individuals do not constitute a critical mass in most organizations, particularly at the highest levels. Consequently, the judgment of the mentor is more likely to be scrutinized when the protege is a woman.
In educational settings, this was most often seen in situations in which a senior level person, for example in central administration, had selected a promising female administrator to mentor. Because there are few female superintendents, there was a tendency to believe that women could not or would not make it to the top. Thus, the way in which others view the relationship was colored by that perception.
Critical feedback is essential to the growth of the protege in a mentoring relationship. However, our study suggests that male mentors are reluctant to provide such feedback to a female protege. For a number of mentors, females as well as minorities are perceived to be unduly sensitive to critical feedback. As a result, mentors tended to filter the information given to these groups. In educational settings, such filtering deprives promising students and faculty of the kind of information they need to grow and develop. No mentoring relationship could survive such intellectual duplicity.
Finally, the study findings indicate that the performance and behavior of female proteges receive closer scrutiny than those of their male counterparts. In some instances, their work is held to a higher standard of performance. This can be a double burden for females of color. Conversely, if the performance fails to measure up in some way, it is taken as a sign not only that the individual does not measure up, but that the performance of the group (females) represented by the individual is similarly deficient.
An illustration can be found in higher education, where in some cases, promotion and tenure is granted to female faculty much later than to their male counterparts. There is also some indication that female graduate students receive fewer research opportunities during their doctoral programs, which affects their acquisition of faculty positions after graduation.
While these findings do not constitute exhaustive data on cross-gender mentoring relationships, they do suggest important issues for those interested in planning mentoring programs in educational settings.
With the current emphases on peer and student-adult mentoring, the definitional and role-related issues and questions discussed earlier cannot be ignored. Several researchers are beginning to examine the conflicting findings on mentoring and to challenge conventional conceptualizations of the relationship. For example, M. R. Schockett and colleagues have developed a model of mentoring that incorporates Kram's phases of initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition, but focuses on collaborative roles for the mentor and protege.17
If we believe that mentoring offers some benefits in certain settings-and there is some data to suggest that it can-it is critical that we reach some agreement regarding a number of aspects of this concept. At present when we talk about "mentoring," we are talking about any number of relationships between people, in widely divergent settings, and with a range of purposes. Without clarity on the concept, it is impossible to conduct research to help us know whether or not mentoring will accomplish what we want it to.
We must begin to define a concept that describes what mentoring looks like: What kind of setting are we referring to? How strong or personal is the relationship? To what end is the partnership directed? What are the roles each person plays? What are the expectations of each partner?
Educators considering mentoring programs should examine with a critical eye the information that we now have on the issue. It is clear that mentoring does not offer the panacea that many hoped, but there is also research that tells us that in certain settings participants benefit from programs. In order to evolve our understanding of mentoring and to conduct useful research on the subject, researchers and field-based educators need to clarify what we call mentoring, and to collaborate to document what works and what doesn't.
Mentoring programs for women and girls are currently found in a wide variety of settings around the country. Ranging from efforts to support academic achievement to career education and development endeavors, these programs offer a wealth of field-based learning that can inform other programs.
The mentoring programs highlighted here illustrate ways in which mentoring can be incorporated into different educational settings. These programs vary in many aspects, including how participants are recruited, the kind of training provided, who the relationships involve, and the kind of guidance partnerships are given. What these programs have in common is that all exhibit ways in which women are helping women, and all use a multicultural perspective-their very approach is shaped by the recognition that while all women share some experiences, they also have many differences in views and needs. As we evolve a concept of mentoring, programs like this can help us focus on what mentoring is, what works, and why.
Four young women have been accepted into nursing programs and are on their way to successful careers. A major catalyst in the process has been the Choose Nursing! Program at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital.
Each year, 15 young women of color and low-income females are selected from the Boston public high schools to participate in this innovative two-year program. Choose Nursing! uses a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to address education and training, recruitment into the health professions, and early intervention career development. The program offers students 1,000 hours of hands-on experience and learning with professional nurses and with patients. In addition to career-related experiences, the program provides diagnostic academic testing, educational planning and counseling, liaison with students' teachers and counselors, individualized assistance in applying for college and financial aid, and help in preparing for college entrance exams.
Students are selected for the program based on their motivation to become professional nurses and to continue their education. While students must have a C+ or better in every academic class they are enrolled in to participate, one of the focuses of the program is to encourage students academically and to provide remediation and supplemental academic work as needed. Mentors are professional nurses who have been recommended by their nurse managers, and who have completed a day-long training session.
The program starts the summer before students' junior year with an intensive six-week training, and continues throughout a two-year period. Students and nurses spend a number of hours a week together during the school year focusing on development of clinical skills, reflection on the program experience, and planning for the future. Students receive tutoring in academic classes and participate in a number of activities designed to help them select a good college nursing program and gain admission. Partnerships with area schools of nursing offer additional opportunities, including the chance to experience actual nursing labs and visit college nursing programs.
The mentoring component of this program just recently became formalized. Since the beginning of the program one-on-one work with a nurse was a critical part of the course. In the 1992-93 year, this relationship was validated and supported with mentor training for nurses. A set of materials developed through the WEEA Program-Hand in Hand: Mentoring Young Women-was adapted for use by the program in planning activities for the pairs and in assisting students to assess their experiences.
In three years of operation, students have overwhelmingly met the expectations hospital staff had for them. After completing the summer intensive session, over 90 percent of the students express a high interest in the nursing field, and after 10 months of the program, 86 percent continue to declare a high interest. As of the end of the second year of the program, 94 percent of the students had applied to colleges, with 88 percent applying to nursing programs.
For additional information about this program contact Eileen Hodgman, Director, Choose Nursing!, Beth Israel Hospital, 132 Brookline Avenue, BL 312, Boston, MA 02215.
Mentoring is currently being used in a number of college and university settings to attract and retain a more diverse student body. One such program, Choices: Minority Women's Perspectives on Equity Issues, provides a mentoring component for women of color that supports them during their college experience, and encourages them in setting professional goals. One participant in Choices reported, "Without this program, I never would have even considered coming to college."
Begun under a WEEA grant in 1989, Choices paired approximately twenty women of color who were entering or already in their first semesters of college courses with a faculty advisor-mentor. Students were recruited into the program through targeted mailings to Triton students and high school students and were selected based on applications. The yearlong program enrolled 21 participants, including African American, Vietnamese, Colobian, and Native American students.
Each mentor worked with their protege to help them learn about and become comfortable with the college environment, and learn what was expected of them in classes and in behavior. As a vast majority of participants were among the first in their families to attend college, this supporting role was often cited by participants as vital to their ability to adjust to the college environment. Mentors also served as resource people, helping protegees learn where to go for specific kinds of help or materials. During the year, the students kept journals in which they recorded their feelings and reactions to school and the program.
This mentoring component supported a comprehensive program that included academic, financial, and life skills courses and counseling. Cooperative education work assignments were directed toward areas of student career interest, and gave students a modest but needed income.
Several participants of the program reported that they would not have even considered college an option without the outreach and support they were given by the program. Although discontinued for lack of funding, the program generated a lot of interest among other students who asked to participate in subsequent years.
For additional information about this program contact Dr. Charlotte Lee, Triton College, 2000 Fifth Avenue, River Grove, IL 60171, (708)456-0300.
The Womentoring Program, a mentoring program run by the National Association of Girls and Women in Sports (NAGWS), is encouraging women to pursue sports-related careers and to support one another in those positions. In place for several years, the program has encouraged women in careers in sports, and has provided support to women pursuing training and placements. For example, one young woman who participated in the project while attending graduate school is now teaching and coaching basketball at a public high school, thanks in large part to the guidance and support of her mentor.
The program began out of the need to increase the number of women of color in sports-related fields, a goal of NAGWS and of the minority representation division of NAGWS. Upon implementation of the program, NAGWS received so much interest in the program that they expanded the program to include all women in sports, and reassigned it to the professional development division of NAGWS.
The Womentoring Program is an ongoing program that continually pairs up mentors and protegees. The program solicits applications for both career mentors and protegees. Mentors are selected based on their multicultural awareness and willingness to grow; their sensitivity and understanding of values, perspectives, and lifestyles of different cultures; and their ability to interact effectively in a pluralistic society. Proteges must be willing to be active participants in the program, and willing to question and listen to advice related to career development.
Once pairs are assigned, initial assistance is provided to both protegees and mentors in the form of an introductory kit to assist in starting the relationship. They way in which the mentor and protegee will interact, as well as the frequency with which they will meet, is decided between the two, with each responsible for submitting periodic progress reports.
For additional information about this program contact the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, 1900 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091-1599, (703)476-3450.
"One of the most exciting things about this project has been that we have discovered so many resources and role models within our own organization" states one participant of a mentoring project for women educational administrators in the Texas Panhandle. Another adds, "In this area we can still often be the only woman administrator in a school district. There can be a real feeling of isolation. That's why this project is so important. Many of us are still learning how to work together and help each other reach our goals."
The Female Educators' Mentorship Project in Amarillo, Texas, tackled the perennial problem of underrepresentation of women in educational leadership roles. The percentage of women administrators in the Texas Panhandle reflects a national predicament: educational administration is not representative of the pool from which administrators come, neither in terms of gender or race/ethnicity. Data collected by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that though female educators outnumber male educators two to one, almost 80 percent of all principals are males. Less than 10 percent are men of color, and approximately 5 percent are women of color.
The project, funded through the WEEA Program and run by the Panhandle Council of Women School Executives, publicized their mentoring effort through newspapers, letters, and their network of educators. Applications were accepted both for mentors and for protegees. A selection committee of seven persons from the council chose the mentors for the program based on their professional goals, their learning and working styles, their views on education, and their description of an ideal mentor and protegee. Initial screening of the protegee applications was done by the same screening committee, which gave preference to women newly hired into subadministrative positions or women working towards these positions. The selected mentors made the final selection, choosing a woman they wanted as a partner.
After an initial two-day training retreat-which included activities designed to strengthen skills in management, leadership, communication, interpersonal skills, team building, and career development-specific activities to be carried out were designed and planned by the mentoring partnerships themselves. The frequency of meetings was up to the pairs, and activities included specific skill development, shared projects, shadowing, and trouble-shooting. Three follow-up workshops were provided throughout the year, the contents of which were selected by the participants. In addition, informal get-togethers, such as breakfasts and parties, were initiated throughout the year by project participants.
During the yearlong mentoring project, two of the protegees were appointed principals, one of whom is now one of the few Latinas in the Panhandle holding this position. Several others, both protegees and mentors, have received promotions since then. "I was recently promoted from an education specialist to administrative assistant for my region, an advancement that I owe in large part to my experiences and contacts from the program," states Hollis Parker-Grimes, who participated in the project as a protegee. Her mentor also won a promotion during the last year.
Although the program is no longer conducted on a formal basis, mentors from the council are still available on an informal basis. Those interested in mentoring other women announce their availability in the council's newsletter.
For additional information about this program contact Hollis Parker-Grimes, Region 16 Education Service Center, P.O. 30600, Amarillo, TX 79120, (806)376-5521.
Mentoring partnerships formed a support mechanism for a job training and internship project developed and run by Volunteers Clearing House in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The clearing house works and is situated in a low-income neighborhood which is predominantly Latino and White. "Volunteers Clearing House has to have a comfortable, mutually respectful environment that makes the building welcoming to the women in this community," explained mentoring project director Toni Brownhill. The organizations philosophy and program are geared to accept women in whatever stage they come, and to slowly but surely working towards empowerment that allows them to take charge of their lives and plan their futures.
The organization offers a number of activities for registration fees of around $3.00, such as a "Back to School" project that helps women gather together donated school necessities, assemble them into kits, sew backpacks for children, and provide children's underwear. Among the activities offered in 1989-90 was a job training project that fit into the continuum of classes the organization offered. The project worked in a number of ways to help participants with self-esteem, literacy, life skills, on-the-job behavior, and high school diplomas or GEDs. Fifteen women originally participated. Eight were Latina, five were White, and two Native American.
The mentoring project supported the work of this project, teaming participants primarily with women of color from the low-income community in which the participants lived, and who had worked through poverty-related issues, had set and achieved career goals, and who had time to devote to such a project. The project staff looked for some measure of personal success and a sensitivity to the problems of women, minorities, and poverty.
For instance, Guadeloupe Salazar, a former attendee of the clearing house was one of the mentors. She grew up in the same neighborhood and experienced many of the hurdles and challenges that the project participants were experiencing. Now director of Colorado State's El Centro Hispanic Services, she provided a strong role model in her feelings about the importance of retaining her Latino culture, paths to take toward becoming self-sufficient, and the importance of giving back to the community.
Mentors first met together, in a session that introduced them to the organization's program and services, the kinds of women they would be working with and their needs, and information about productive mentoring. The commitments expected of the mentor were also outlined. Mentors were to be willing to meet for at least a year; had to be positive role models in terms of dress, punctuality, and professionalism; and had to understand that the relationship was to be supportive rather than one fostering dependence.
Mentors and protegees met first in a group of all the participants, where the expectations and goals of the project were discussed. The progression of action suggested by the project staff was to spend three months getting to know one another, setting goals, and deciding on a plan of action. During the rest of the year, the partners were to work towards the goals they decided upon. Pairs met two to three hours a month, and could attend monthly "mini-seminars" on such areas as assertiveness, goal setting, interviewing skills, employer expectations, academic and vocational opportunities, and appropriate work dress and grooming. During this period, project staff stayed in close contact to ensure that the relationship continued to be mutually satisfying.
All of the participants in the program experienced some measure of success, whether it was accepting a job outside of the home or staying home with their children and setting up a home-based sewing business. Although the program is no longer conducted on a formal basis, due to lack of funding, role models and mentors are still provided on an informal and volunteer basis within Volunteers Clearing House.
For additional information about this program contact Carolyn Andrews, Volunteers Clearing House, 401 Linden Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524, (303)493-0909.
International Mentoring Association
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The products of the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Publishing Center provide ideas and activities for mentoring programs designed to empower female adolescents and women in schools and in businesses. Developed with funds from the WEEA Program, the materials may be purchased by mail or phone. Orders under $25 must be prepaid.
Hand in Hand: Mentoring Young Women, Guide for Planning, Implementing, and Evaluating a Mentoring Program, #2685 $17.50;
Ideabook for Mentors, #2686 $8.50;
Student Career Journal, #2742 $6.00
Used by a wide range of counseling, at-risk, and career exploration programs, this set was developed in conjunction with the Mentor Training Project in Portland, Oregon. The field-tested materials train career women of color to be effective mentors for high school girls of color. The Ideabook serves as guidance for mentors and students for their time together. Each student uses the Journal to record their thoughts and insights as they learn about themselves, dispel fantasies about the future, and begin planning for a realistic adventure toward adulthood. This set has been adapted for use in a hospital setting by the Choose Nursing! Program, described in this digest.
Chart Your Course and Building Partnerships (set), #2703 $16.00
An innovative career exploration program for young women, Chart Your Course includes activities to help young women increase their knowledge of career options and generate useful skills. Using Building Partnerships, mentoring programs can plan and implement student career institutes on industry sites. The high-tech industry/educational equity model uses the actual workplace and career counseling to encourage young women to enter and succeed in nontraditional education and career choices.
Executive Mentoring: Myths, Issues, Strategies, #2712 $8.00
Although developed to provide guidelines to top-level executives as they develop mentoring programs and assume the role of mentors, Executive Mentoring is applicable to mentors in general because it identifies the nature of mentoring from the perspective of the mentor. Co-authored by Norma T. Mertz, Olga M. Welch, and Janetta M. Henderson, it assesses the mentors' needs, defines the problems they face, and examines the role mentoring plays in their organizations. Included are questions such as why mentor, what's in it for you, how to select a protege;, how to begin and end a mentoring relationship, how to structure the relationship, and what to consider when mentoring women and people of color. It examines the myths and issues behind each of these questions and provides specific strategies for effectively managing the mentoring process.
Barrier Free: Serving Young Women with Disabilities, #2732 $8.00
A step-by-step training manual that can lead mentors through a process of greater awareness on both a personal and professional level and help them examine some important issues that disabled young women-just like all teenaged girls-face: career exploration, independent living, and sexuality.
WEEA Working Papers present in-depth discussions on cutting-edge issues in gender equity:
Teaching Mathematics Effectively and Equitably to Females $4.00 (#2140)
Building Self: Adolescent Girls and Self-Esteem $4.00 (#2745)
Legislation for Change: A Case Study of Title IX and the Women's Educational Equity Act Program $4.00 (#2749)
©1998 Education Development Center, Inc.