Gender, Work & Organization - The University of Western Australia

Gender, Work & Organization
Engendering Leadership Conference 2008
Developing Leaders
“Perfect Match”: what makes formal mentoring successful?
Claire Webb
The University of Western Australia
Contact Details:
Claire Webb
Staff Development Officer
Organisational and Staff Development Services (M400)
The University of Western Australia
Tel: 6488 3986
Fax: 6488 1156
Email: [email protected]
Formal mentoring programmes have become popular in advancing minority groups within
the workplace, including women, providing them with access to support networks not
normally available, and encouraging their personal, professional and leadership
development. Formal mentoring is assumed to be mutually beneficial to both mentors and
mentees, but there has been relatively little exploration of this in the literature. It is unclear
whether formal mentoring can successfully replicate the mentoring that occurs informally.
This paper reports on a formal mentoring programme for women operating at the
University of Western Australia for the past thirteen years, and explores the following
 What impact does a formal mentoring programme have on mentors and mentees?
 What influences the success or otherwise of mentoring partnerships, and what
strategies can be put in place to support them?
 What impact does the gender of the mentor have on the mentoring experience for
mentees and mentors?
 How effective is mentoring as a leadership development strategy?
Given that mentor matching is often highly individualised and time-consuming, and that
those participating in mentoring programmes often invest many hours engaging in the
process, it is vital to ensure that the experience is as productive as possible for all
Key words: Mentoring, Gender, Universities, Development, Leadership
“Perfect Match”: what makes formal mentoring successful?
Formal mentoring programmes have become a popular development tool in the last two
decades, adopted by organisations for multiple purposes. Such programmes have been
used to advance minority groups within the workplace, including women, providing them
with access to support networks not normally available, and encouraging their personal,
professional and leadership development (Chesterman, 2001). A review in 2007 of staff
development for women initiatives in higher education identified that mentoring
programmes were operating in at least 17 Australian universities1. Several of these
programmes have been operating over a number of years, and many have been
evaluated (Butorac, 1998; Devos, 2003; Gardiner, 2005; Gustavson, 1997, McCormack,
The benefits of mentoring highlighted in the literature include greater career satisfaction,
increased promotion, retention, publications, research grant income, confidence, selfesteem, networking, job involvement, and reduced stress (Blake-Beard, 2001; Gardiner,
2005; Ragins, 1999; Ragins and Cotton, 1999). On the negative side, mentoring can be
time consuming, result in doubt on part of mentees and mentors, and some mentoring
partnerships never develop.
Formal mentoring is assumed to be mutually beneficial to both mentors and mentees, but
there has been relatively little exploration of this in the literature (Blake-Beard; 2001, Cox,
2005; Kram, 1985). There is also some doubt as to whether formal mentoring can
Data available on the UWA web site at
successfully replicate and accrue the same benefits as mentoring that occurs informally
(Blake-Beard, 2001).
This paper reports on a formal mentoring scheme which has been in place at the
University of Western Australia (UWA) for the past thirteen years, and forms part of its
one-year Leadership Development for Women (LDW) programme. Through feedback
from individual mentors and mentees participating in the 2001 – 2006 programmes, and
from comparative data collected as part of the programme’s tenth anniversary in 2005, I
will explore the impact of mentoring on those involved, what factors have influenced the
success or otherwise of mentoring relationships, what strategies have been implemented
to support the process, what impact the gender of the mentor has had on the mentoring
experience, and what effect mentoring has had as a leadership development strategy.
UWA Case Study
The Leadership Development for Women programme was introduced by the University of
Western Australia in 1994. It was established to address the continuing under
representation of women at senior levels within the organisation, to increase women’s
involvement in leadership and decision making processes, and to contribute to a culture
change within the University that would value women’s contributions and encourage more
inclusive management and leadership styles. Now in its fourteenth year, sixteen
programmes have been run, with 445 women having participated. Each programme
combines leadership skills development workshops, peer learning groups, career-related
workshops and information sessions on how the University works.
Mentoring has always formed part of LDW and has provided a one-to-one component in
contrast to the group aspects of the programme. It has also been integral to involving
other UWA staff with the programme. Between 1994 and 2007 more than 410 women
(193 academics and 217 general staff) have been matched with some 219 mentors from
across the institution for a period of up to nine months.
Who Mentors?
Both female and male mentors have been involved in LDW since the programme’s
inception. This strategy was favoured by the then female Vice-Chancellor, Professor Fay
Gale, who saw it as important to encourage male supporters and champions of the
programme, allow opportunities for men to hear women’s stories, and to change their
understanding of gender issues. It also avoided too much load being placed on the few
women holding senior positions. This approach differed from some other women’s
mentoring schemes, where there was concern that men would not understand women’s
issues and would offer inappropriate advice. Mentors are drawn from all areas of the
University, and participants are usually matched with someone outside their work area or
discipline group. Care is taken to ensure that direct reporting lines are not compromised.
Of the 219 mentors involved in LDW from 1994 - 2006, 67% have been female and 33%
male. This is in part because some participants have specifically requested a female
mentor, and also because past LDW participants have gone on to mentor more junior
women in the programme. More academic than general staff mentors have been involved
- 130 academics (59%) compared with 89 general staff (41%) - which is surprising given
that there have been more general staff mentees (53%) than academics (47%). This
difference is primarily due to the number of general staff mentees who have chosen to be
matched with an academic mentor.
The programme has been fortunate in having strong support from the top, with 76 of the
219 mentors (35%) being at very senior levels within the organisation. Of this group, 71%
are senior academics, including members of the executive, deans and heads of schools,
and 29% are senior general staff, including members of the executive and directors. The
gender breakdown for senior staff mentors is 58% male and 42% female, indicating that
although LDW has a higher proportion of female mentors, the male mentors are often at
more senior levels. Involvement of senior male mentors has been one of the strengths of
the programme, building strong and supportive relationships that have certainly
contributed to the programme’s longevity. Of the very junior mentors involved in the
programme, 95% are female and only 5% are male.
Matching Process
Mentoring occurs part way through the LDW programme, with each participant being
offered the opportunity to be matched with a more senior staff member, who can assist
them with their professional and career development. All but a few participants take up
the option to have a mentor. The matching process is highly individualised, based on
goals, needs and criteria identified by each participant. Participants are asked to suggest
possible mentors who might meet their needs, and the LDW coordinators approach
potential mentors on their behalf. Mentors are drawn from all areas of the University,
including past LDW participants. Once matched, written confirmation is sent to each
mentor and mentee, with accompanying guidelines, including tips on how to begin the
relationship and suggested activities to engage in. The process is driven primarily by the
mentees, who are asked to organise and set the agenda for their meetings.
Experience has shown the importance of offering support and guidance to mentoring
partners, and this level of support has been refined over time by the LDW coordinators.
Separate workshops are provided for mentees and new mentors, giving them the
opportunity to clarify roles and expectations and assist them in making the most of their
mentoring partnerships. Follow-up emails are also sent to mentors and mentees at
various stages during the nine months to gauge how the relationships are progressing,
with a final questionnaire being sent at the end of the nine month mentoring period.
LDW Data
In exploring the impact and effectiveness of the LDW mentoring programme, data has
been drawn from two main sources. Initial research was conducted in 2005 as part of the
programme’s tenth anniversary evaluation (de Vries, 2005). This included a survey on
mentoring that formed part of an overall programme review. Questionnaires were sent to
293 women who had participated in LDW between 1994 and 2003 and 128 responses
were received. The research also included in-depth interviews with 15 experienced
mentors, who had mentored multiple times in the programme (de Vries, Webb and
Eveline, 2006).
A further review of mentoring has been conducted in 2008, using feedback obtained from
mentors and mentees over 8 programmes from 2001 - 2006. The feedback comes from
responses to questionnaires independently completed by mentors and mentees at the
end of their mentoring partnerships. These informal questionnaires were designed to give
LDW coordinators general feedback on the mentoring experience and to assist in
improving the programme. Questions asked included whether the mentoring partners
were still meeting, how often and for how long they had met, how useful they had found
the experience, what benefits they had gained, any goals achieved (mentees only), and
what experience they felt they had been able to contribute (mentors only). Respondents
were also asked to identify any problems or concerns they had about their mentoring
experience and any suggestions for improving the scheme.
Of 215 pairs who were matched from 2001 - 2006, feedback was received from 166
respondents: 79 from mentees (37% of those matched) and 87 from mentors (40% of
those matched). Of the mentees who responded, 63 had a female mentor (80%) and 16
had a male mentor (20%). Of the mentors who responded, 69 were female (80%) and 18
were male (20%). There were slightly more general staff mentors (54%) than academic
mentors (46%). Forty-one of the mentors (47%) were very senior staff, e.g. executive,
deans, heads of schools or directors, and of this senior group, 26 were female (63%) and
15 were male (37%). Female mentors are therefore proportionately over-represented in
our sample, both as respondents to the questionnaire and as mentors of those who
responded to the questionnaire.
An analysis of the results of these evaluations is outlined below.
How useful is mentoring?
There are many indicators that the mentoring experience has benefited LDW mentors and
mentees. Feedback from the 128 respondents to the tenth anniversary survey indicated
that 16% of participants regarded mentoring as the most influential component of the
programme. In this same survey, 74% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the
time spent with their mentor was useful to their development as a leader.
Data from the 2001 – 2006 programmes asked mentors and mentees to rate how useful
they had found their mentoring experience. As indicated in the table below, 83% of
mentees and 83% of mentors rated their mentoring experience as either ‘very useful’ or
‘moderately useful’ (mentors were not asked to give a usefulness rating in either of the
programmes run in 2001).
Table 1: Usefulness of mentoring experience (2001 – 2006)
Usefulness Rating by
Mentees (n = 78)
Mentors (n = 71)
Very Useful
Moderately Useful
Not Very Useful
While the majority of respondents found the experience beneficial, it is of concern that
17% of both mentees and mentors did not rate the experience as being very useful to
them. Possible reasons for this will be explored later.
There are 33 matched pairs in the 2001 – 2006 data, where feedback was received from
both the mentor and the mentee. Of this group 21 out of 32 pairs (66%) independently
agreed on the usefulness of the experience, with 17 pairs rating it as ‘very useful’ or
‘moderately useful’ and 4 pairs rating it as ‘not very useful’. Of the 11 matched pairs that
did not agree on the usefulness rating, 6 mentees rated the experience as more valuable
than their mentors, and 5 mentors rated the experience as more valuable than their
mentees. In this same group, there was a direct correlation between the benefits and
goals identified by mentees, and the knowledge, skills and experience mentors felt they
had been able to offer - 19/33 partnerships (58%). This suggests that in many cases,
formal mentor matching provided a good match with mutually beneficial outcomes.
Mentees were asked to indicate what they had learned and what benefits they had gained
from their mentoring experience. The benefits they most frequently identified are
summarised below:
Table 2: Benefits of mentoring identified by mentees (2001 – 2006)
Career related (e.g. promotion, secondments, new jobs, study leave)
New/different perspectives and strategies
People management/communication skills
Better understanding of the organisation
Support, encouragement, sounding board
Greater confidence in self and abilities
Clarifying goals and priorities
Importance of humour – don’t take things too seriously
% responses
(n = 103)
There is much overlap between these results and those identified in the tenth anniversary
evaluation, where the top ranked benefits were encouragement, increased confidence,
networks, feeling less isolated, and better understanding of the University. In the 2001 –
2006 data the most frequently identified benefits were career issues, different
perspectives and people management/communication. These were not strongly identified
in the tenth anniversary results, presumably because the earlier evaluation used set
rather than open ended questions.
Mentors were also asked to indicate what they had learned and what benefits they had
gained from the experience. The benefits they most frequently identified are summarised
Table 3: Benefits of mentoring identified by mentors (2001 – 2006)
Increased awareness and learning about another work area/another’s issues
Helping others/seeing them achieve
Sharing and collaboration
Developing and improving listening and coaching skills
% responses
(n = 99)
These results are similar to the findings from interviews conducted with mentors as part of
the tenth anniversary evaluation. It is interesting to note how many mentors identified selfreflection as a benefit. They talked about the value of “reflecting on my own approach to
many aspects of work, life, management, etc.”, “revisiting my own fundamental
principles”, rethinking “how I see myself coping with certain issues/problems”, and
realising that “I do have something to offer”. We tend not to think of mentoring as a
developmental tool for the mentors, yet many of the benefits identified above are
important skills for leaders to have. It has also become apparent from incidental feedback
received that many LDW mentors actively promote their mentoring experience when
seeking career advancement, e.g. applying for jobs or promotion, and that such
experience is recognised and valued by those higher up in the organisation.
One indicator of the positive impact of mentoring is the proportion of mentors who have
taken on the role more than once. Of the 219 LDW mentors, 98 (45%) have mentored
multiple times, with 35% having done so two or three times, and 10% having mentored
four times or more. Two female mentors have mentored eight times, and the current male
Vice-Chancellor has mentored nine times. Many LDW participants have also gone on to
become mentors, with 53% of the female mentors having been past participants, and
47% of this group having mentored more than once. More than 18% of all LDW
participants have become mentors. The benefits readily identified by mentors, coupled
with their preparedness to mentor on multiple occasions are strong indicators of the
programme’s success from the mentors perspective. This has led to a ripple effect, with
more staff in the organisation valuing mentoring, and creating a mentoring culture.
Many mentoring partners are continuing to meet beyond the formal nine-month period.
The feedback from 2001 – 2006 respondents indicates that 48% of the mentees and 51%
of the mentors continued to meet beyond nine months. This is in comparison with 39%
reported in the tenth anniversary evaluation. It is probable that those who responded to
the end of mentoring questionnaires from 2001 – 2006 are more likely to be the ones for
whom the experience was working well, so the data from the tenth anniversary evaluation
may be a more accurate reflection of what is really happening. However, it still suggests
that a significant proportion of mentors and mentees are finding the mentoring partnership
beneficial and want to continue.
Those involved in the 2001 – 2006 programmes reported meeting between 1 – 25 times,
with the average number of meetings being 5.9 for mentees and 6.0 for mentors. Those
involved in the tenth anniversary evaluation reported meeting between 0 - 20 times, with
5.2 as the average.
The downside of mentoring
As mentioned previously, formal mentoring does not work for everyone. As part of the
2001 – 2006 feedback, respondents were asked to identify any problems or concerns
they had about their mentoring experience. The questions were open ended and
responses varied, but the following common concerns were raised:
Table 4: Concerns about mentoring (2001 – 2006)
Differing/unclear expectations
Leave commitments/left UWA
Unclear goals/ideas on what to do
Differing backgrounds/experiences
Lack of confidence
Relevance of advice given/sought
Relationship wasn’t two-way
Insufficient commitment
Mentee Responses
(n = 90)
Mentor Responses
(n = 85)
Not surprisingly, time and workload was most frequently identified as a problem, but more
often by mentees than mentors. Specific difficulties mentioned included mentees or
mentors being too busy, mentees reluctant to take up their mentor’s time, and difficulties
such as one or both partners being away, not booking meetings in advance, etc. In the
case of differing/unclear expectations it was mentors who expressed greater concern than
mentees. For a few mentors this was because they were “unsure how to contribute most
effectively”, unclear “what mentees want”, or unsure how best to advise their mentees on
specific issues, perhaps indicating the need for further training for mentors. Others talked
about their mentees being unclear what they wanted, seeking advice but unwilling to act
on it, or having very different approaches. These along with unclear goals and differing
backgrounds/experiences mirror the major concerns identified in the tenth anniversary
Issues around leave commitments (study, long service, parental leave) or mentoring
partners leaving the organisation part way through their partnership were also rated highly
in the 2001 – 2006 data. Concerns mentioned less frequently were around mentees being
too introverted/shy, prior relationship with their mentoring partner or proximity of work
areas impacting on the nature of issues discussed, and goals or priorities having
changed. With regard to this last concern, it has been noted in the literature that
mentoring relationships are not static, that the needs of mentees may change, and that
mentors may require training on what to do when the unexpected happens (Cox, 2005).
An analysis of feedback from the 25 respondents who rated the experience as ‘not very
useful’ gives slightly different results. Thirteen mentees - 12 with female mentors and 1
with a male mentor - rated the mentoring experience as ‘not very useful’. In addition to the
concerns discussed above, this group rated more highly concerns around
differing/unclear expectations (13%) and relevance of advice given/sought (9%). Bad
timing, e.g. illness, family illness, work changes and job changes were also raised.
Twelve mentors - 10 female and 2 male – also rated the mentoring experience as ‘not
very useful’. Again, the most frequently reported concern was around differing/unclear
expectations (42%), followed by time/workload (16%), and relevance of advice (11%).
The issue of differing/unclear expectations is one the programme coordinators have tried
to address through clearer guidelines, training and follow-up, and while identified less
often in recent years, it still appears to be a concern for some. Perhaps it is more of a
problem for LDW where mentoring is part of a larger programme and where those
involved do not specifically enrol for mentoring. Some mentors expressed concern that
the relationship was not two-way (11%), although it was less of an issue for mentees
(only 4% expressed concern). Not only does this suggest that mentors are keen to gain
from a shared experience, but contrasts with the idea of the expert mentor imparting
wisdom, but learning nothing in return.
With regard to differing backgrounds/experience comments included “mismatch”, “didn’t
speak the same language”, “didn’t click” and “not sure we were a good match”. This
perhaps indicates the greatest challenge facing those who coordinate formal mentoring
programmes: how to match on the basis of personality, shared values, and common
ground that tends to occur with informal mentoring. The literature suggests that less
personal development may occur when people with similar personalities are matched
(Clutterbuck, 1998; Cox, 2005), but that too much contrast can make it hard for
relationships to develop and may lead to irreconcilable differences (Hay, 1995). Finding
the right balance is not easy.
Interestingly, 10 of the 25 respondents (40%) who rated the experience as ‘not very
useful’ indicated positive outcomes from their experience, including:
o “Found talking with my mentor useful. Gained another more detached perspective”
o “Enriching experience, but no real goals achieved” (mentee)
o “Mentor was supportive” (mentee)
o “Hit it off really well, but serious illness prevented things from progressing” (mentor)
o “… best part – forming a good relationship with another member of staff” (mentor).
Perhaps these respondents viewed the benefits they gained as something other than
mentoring, or had very specific ideas about what they wanted from the relationship, which
were not met.
As might be expected, the frequency of meetings for those who rated the experience as
‘not very useful’ was lower than for the overall group. Mentees met between 1 – 9 times,
with the average number of meetings being 2.7 (compared with 5.9 overall). Mentors met
between 1 – 10 times, with the average number of meetings being 3.4 (compared with 6.0
overall). Surprisingly, a small number of respondents who rated the experience as ‘not
very useful’ met as many as 9 – 10 times. This would suggest that these participants were
still gaining some benefit from the experience, or perhaps that they had difficulty ending
the relationship.
Mentees were asked to identify what goals they had achieved through their mentoring
experience. Twelve of the 79 mentees (15%) did not identify any goals. In addition to the
concerns already discussed, one concern identified by some in this category was around
lack of trust, reluctance to share/reveal information or be open to new ideas. Comments
from these mentees included:
o “I am difficult to get to know well as I am quite guarded. I am not very open to
situations that I feel are not what I am looking for”
o “Unsure how much my mentor wants to let me know about her and how much I
want my mentor to know about me”
o “Wanted to know more about my mentor's background, but this was not
forthcoming. Didn't like some of his suggestions/tasks”.
As suggested by Hale and Whiltam (1999), this issue of ‘unwillingness or inability to selfdisclose’ can inhibit open communication, giving and receiving of feedback, and
development of trust and learning.
Of greatest concern is the fact that some LDW mentoring relationships never get started.
Feedback from the tenth anniversary evaluation indicated that 5 respondents (4.6%) had
never met with their mentors, although the reasons for this are unclear. We are also
aware that a few of the matches from the 2001 - 2006 programmes did not get
established, primarily due to changing circumstances of either the mentor or mentee. This
is disappointing given the amount of effort that goes into the matching process and the
potential benefits lost.
From the feedback above, it is clear that arranging the “perfect match” in formal
mentoring programmes is not an easy task. In common with others, we have discovered
that mentoring is not always successful or rewarding, and in a few cases can have a
negative impact on those involved. For example, one female mentor who had an
unsuccessful mentoring relationship was unable to identify any benefits and commented
that the experience “made me feel quite inadequate”. Fortunately this particular individual
has taken on subsequent mentoring roles, with much greater success.
Strategies introduced to support mentoring partnerships
Through a process of ongoing refinement the LDW coordinators have sought to address
some of the problems associated with formal mentoring schemes. Strategies
implemented have included:
encouraging mentees to be clearer about their goals and mentoring requirements from
the outset;
providing more detailed written guidelines to mentors and mentees once matched,
including tips on how to get started and manage the first few meetings, and
suggestions of practical activities they might engage in;
refining workshops for mentees and new mentors to assist them in clarifying
mentoring roles and expectations, and identify ways to make the most of the
providing more regular and personalised follow-up with mentoring partners;
encouraging mentors to be proactive about managing the relationship if mentees are
reluctant to do so;
sending reminders to both partners at the end of nine months, encouraging them to
review the experience, provide feedback to the organisers, and draw their formal
relationships to a close;
encouraging mentees to maintain existing informal mentor relationships, in recognition
of the fact that no single mentor may be able to meet all of their needs;
providing the opportunity for those who are reluctant to have a mentor to opt out of the
No formal assessment of the impact of these strategies has been conducted. However,
feedback from the 2001 – 2006 respondents indicates that there have been fewer
requests in recent years for guidance on how to get started or suggested activities to
engage in with their mentoring partners. There have also been more positive responses
from mentors and mentees to follow-up emails reviewing how the mentoring is
progressing, and a higher response rate from mentors to the end of mentoring
questionnaires since the introduction of personalised follow-ups.
Based on feedback from the tenth anniversary evaluation, plans are in place to offer
advanced training to the more experienced mentors, providing them with an opportunity to
share experiences, discuss concerns and consider strategies for dealing with the
Gender differences in the mentoring experience
It has been suggested that there are ‘critical gender differences in men’s and women’s
experiences of mentoring’ and that ‘women often have to work harder to establish
relationships that cross lines of gender’ (Blake-Beard, 2001). I was interested to explore
this issue in relation to the LDW programme.
Feedback from the tenth anniversary evaluation highlighted slight gender differences in
the way mentees and mentors experienced mentoring, depending on the gender of the
mentor. Participants reported male mentors as meeting slightly more frequently, for
longer, and as more likely to continue meeting after the nine months. They were also
perceived by mentees to be slightly more committed to the process. A similar analysis of
the 2001 – 2006 data has been conducted on the basis of gender. Taking into account
the fact that the sample size (79 mentees and 87 mentors) is relatively small, that only 16
of the mentees (20%) had a male mentor, and that only 18 of the mentor responses
(20%) were from male mentors, the following differences emerged.
Usefulness: mentees with male mentors were more likely to rate the experience as ‘very
useful’ (69%) compared with those who had female mentors (56%). In addition, none of
the mentees who had a male mentor rated the experience as ‘not very useful’, compared
with 21% of those who had a female mentor. The results for mentors were less clear cut.
An equal proportion of male and female mentors (44%) rated their experience as ‘very
useful’, but fewer male mentors (13%) rated their experience as ‘not very useful’
compared with 18% of female mentors.
Frequency of meetings: mentees with male mentors met between 3 – 17 times, with the
average number of meetings being 6.5. This was slightly higher than for those with female
mentors, who met between 1 – 25 times, but with the average being 5.9. Mentor
responses also indicate that male mentors met slightly more often than their female
counterparts, with the average being 6.75 for males, compared with 5.9 for female
Continuing on: 63% of mentees who had male mentors reported that they were still
meeting after nine months, compared with 46% of those with female mentors. In contrast,
52% of female mentors indicated that they were still meeting after nine months, compared
with 44% of male mentors.
Benefits: the benefits mentees with female mentors most frequently identified were in
relation to people management/communication; clarifying goals/priorities; career-related
issues; and increased confidence in their abilities. Those with male mentors most
frequently identified support/encouragement/sounding board; better understanding of the
University; new/different perspectives/strategies; and the importance of maintaining a
sense of humour. For female mentors the benefits most frequently identified were
networking; self-reflection, and listening/coaching skills. For male mentors they were
helping others; sharing/collaboration; and learning about other areas/issues.
Goals achieved: mentees with a female mentor most frequently identified the goals they
achieved as relating to management issues; help with grants/research; and increased
understanding of the University. The most frequently reported goals for those with male
mentors were around networking; career issues; and increased confidence.
Repeat mentors: female mentors have been more likely to become repeat mentors than
males, with 47% of all female mentors involved with LDW taking on a mentoring role more
than once, compared with 41% of male mentors. Of the 2001 – 2006 respondents, 61% of
female mentors have mentored more than once, compared with 53% of male mentors.
This may be a reflection of the desire by participants to have female mentors, or perhaps
because there are fewer senior female staff available to draw from and so the same
female mentors are being approached repeatedly.
Concerns: of the concerns identified by the 2001 – 2006 respondents, time and workload
was the one most frequently identified by mentees, regardless of the gender of their
mentor, and by female mentors, but was rarely mentioned by male mentors. Quite why
this should be is unclear. Are the male mentors better at setting aside time for mentoring,
or seeing it as a legitimate part of the role, or could the female mentors have more
competing demands on their time than their male counterparts? Confidentiality was raised
more often as a concern by mentees with male mentors and by male mentors. In all
cases this was related to the fact that the mentoring partners worked sufficiently closely
that they felt uncomfortable discussing certain people or work issues, for example “both in
same professional area which made sharing office politics difficult”. Both male and female
mentors identified differing/unclear expectations equally often as a concern, but it was
less of a problem for mentees. Male mentors mentioned leave commitments as a concern
more often than mentees and female mentors. In all cases this was in relation to the
mentee having either left the University or gone on extended leave. Differing
backgrounds/experiences was mentioned by mentees and female mentors, but never by
male mentors. It is unclear whether this is because the men did not experience a
problem, they expected there to be differences on the basis of gender and did not think it
worth mentioning, or for some other reason.
From this data, there certainly appear to be some small gender differences depending on
the gender of the mentor. For the mentees it would seem that those with male mentors
found the experience more useful, met more frequently and were more likely to continue
meeting beyond the formal mentoring period. This confirms the findings of the tenth
anniversary evaluation. Such differences are not so clearly identified by mentors,
although male mentors also report meeting slightly more often than their female
counterparts. There appear to be differences in the benefits both mentees and mentors
gained from the experience, depending on gender. It is reassuring to note that, in all but
one LDW partnership, the concerns raised in the literature about men being unable to
understand women’s issues, reinforcing existing ways of operating, teaching the women
to “fit in” or offering inappropriate advice have not been borne out in our results. It must be
cautioned, however, that the seniority of male and female mentors is not equivalent and
that any suggested differences may be accounted for by seniority rather than gender.
This is a limitation of our data, and one that needs to be taken into account in any further
Mentoring as a leadership development strategy
So how effective is formal mentoring as a leadership development strategy? The LDW
programme has certainly proved to be an important leadership strategy, but mentoring is
only one component, so it is hard to judge its effectiveness in isolation. In the tenth
anniversary evaluation, where specific questions were asked about the impact of
mentoring on leadership development, 68% of participants agreed that mentoring had
contributed to their leadership development and 74% agreed or strongly agreed that the
time spent with their mentor was useful to their development as a leader. In my analysis
of the feedback from the 2001 – 2006 programmes, where no specific questions about
leadership development were asked, very little reference was made to it. Only one
mentee mentioned developing leadership skills as a result of their mentoring experience.
Although they did not talk specifically about leadership or leadership development, many
of the respondents did mention qualities which are considered important in good leaders,
such as self-reflection, sharing and collaboration, people management/communication
skills, and listening and coaching skills.
What does all this mean for programme organisers, mentors and mentees? The LDW
experience suggests that a formal mentoring programme for women works for the
majority of those involved and results in obvious benefits for both mentors and mentees.
For many it is a valuable, mutually beneficial experience that broadens networks,
enhances skills, assists career development, increases understanding of individuals’
circumstances and organisational operations, and offers new strategies and perspectives.
However, it is not always successful, has the potential to result in loss of confidence or
self-esteem on the part of those who have a negative experience, and represents wasted
time and opportunity for those partnerships that never get established. Unlike informal
mentoring, it often requires more effort to establish and maintain relationships, particularly
when the individuals are not known to each other. It is also hard to match on the basis of
personality and to ensure that the matched pairs will be able to find sufficient common
ground for effective learning to occur. Providing adequate guidance, training and ongoing
support can certainly assist the process, but whether the “perfect match” can be achieved
as a result of careful planning and judgement on the part of programme organisers, or
whether it is largely the result of serendipity (Cox, 2005) is questionable.
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Organizations (CGO) Simmons School of Management.
Butorac, A. 1998, Mentoring: Developing successful mentoring for women, ATN WEXDEV University of
Technology Sydney, Sydney.
Chesterman, C. 2001, Women and Mentoring in Higher Education Module 8, Association of Commonwealth
Universities and Commonwealth Secretariat, Management Development for Women in Higher
Education, ACU, London.
Clutterbuck, D, 1998, Learning Alliances, London, Institute of Personnel and Development.
Cox, E., 2005, ‘For better, for worse: the matching process in formal mentoring schemes’, Mentoring &
Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 13:3, 403-414.
de Vries, J. (ed.) 2005, More than the sum of its parts: 10 years of the Leadership Development for Women
Programme at UWA, Organisation and Staff Development Services, The University of Western
Australia, Perth.
de Vries, J., Webb, C. & Eveline, J. 2006, 'Mentoring for gender equality and organisational change',
Employee Relations, vol. 28, no. 6, pp. 573-587.
Devos, A., McLean, J. & O'Hara, P., 2003, 'The potential of women's programmes to generate institutional
change', in Learning for an unknown future. Proceedings of the 2003 Annual International
Conference of Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) eds
C. Bond & P. Bright, Christchurch, New Zealand, pp. 143 - 151.
Gardiner, M. 2005, Making a Difference: Flinders University Mentoring Scheme for Early Career Women
Researchers Seven years on. Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.
Gustavson, C. 1997, 'Women, opportunity and the gendered culture ... the Women and Leadersip Program
at the University of South Australia', in Women in Leadership Conference 1997: Vision in
Leadership: Women Redefining Power, ed. A. Kinnear, Edith Cowan University, Fremantle, pp. p
47 - 52.
Hale R. & Whiltam, P., 1999, Impact and Influence, Kogan Page, London
Hay, J., 1995, Tranformational Mentoring, McGraw-Hill, London
Kram, K. 1985, 'Mentoring in Perspective.' in Mentoring at work: developmental relationships in
organisational life., ed. G. S. Foresman, pp. 194-200.
McCormack, C. 2006, 'Do mentoring programs influence participants' longer-term career development? A
case study', in ATN WEXDEV Conference 2006: Change in Climate: Prospects for Gender Equity in
Universities, ATN WEXDEV, Adelaide: University of South Australia.
Ragins, B. & Cotton, J. 1999, 'Mentor Functions and Outcomes: A Comparison of Men and Women in
Formal and Informal Mentoring Relationships', Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 84, no. 4, pp.
529 - 550.
Ragins, B. R. 1999, 'Where Do We Go From Here and How Do We Get There? Methodological Issues in
Conducting Research on Diversity and Mentoring Relationships.' in Mentoring Dilemmas, eds A.
Murrel, F. Crosby & R. Ely, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 227 - 247.
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