Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 24, No. 2, 137–157, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this article, the authors describe a pilot mentoring program which includes the under-representation of female researchers in senior academic positions by supporting early career development for young academics at two faculties at a Danish university. In addition, the program aimed to enhance organizational development and increase diversity to make full use of all the potential talent in the organization. The authors analyze the benefits of mentoring to postdoc female researchers’ career, to the mentees, and to the higher education institution.
The program was implemented at two faculties. The mentee group consisted of 19 female postdocs and assistant professors. The mentor group consisted of 13 established researchers, including eight men and five women, with different departmental affiliation.
The mentoring program was evaluated in the frame of a European project (WHIST).
The main aim of the evaluation was, as mentioned, to collect lessons learned and map the benefits of the mentoring program for mentees and mentors.
The evaluation process was based on semi-structured face-to-face interviews with mentors and mentees, and focus group interviews with mentees.
The results comprised the perspectives of both mentees and mentors, point to multiple benefits. Benefits for the mentees consisted of guidance to career planning, competence awareness, establishment of networks, navigating in the research environment, and moral support. The mentees perceived that participation in the program had a significant effect on their ability to succeed in academia.
In this study, the authors also show that the mentor– mentee relationship was reciprocal, as also mentors benefited.
Benefits for the mentors comprised professional development, institutional recognition, and personal satisfaction.
The implementation of the structured mentoring program demonstrates a level of institutional support that helped strengthen self-confidence and individual development, and provided access to experienced researchers’ knowledge about career planning and integration in the research environment.
The grounded theory approach used in this study provided a unique opportunity to ascertain the core of the mentors’ and mentees’ experiences and benefits.
The key implications of the findings are:
(1) The results may be used in mentoring programs that address the underrepresentation of female researchers in senior academic positions by supporting young researchers’ career planning and integration in the research environment.
(2) The findings are highly relevant in recruitment and retention considerations in higher education institutions.
(3) Paying attention to the role of mentoring in science might provide incentives to universities to engage in younger female scientists’ career development and promote a more including and diverse higher education environment.
(4) The benefits outlined here could be used both as a selection tool for potential mentees and mentors and as an instrument in establishing mentoring programs or practices on the important features of these relationships for faculty members.
(5) Mentoring of younger faculty as a component in assessments of promotion is worth considering to encourage more faculty members to prioritize it.