Developing Future Women Leaders: The Importance of Mentoring and Role Modeling in the Girls’ School Context

Oct. 01, 2012

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 20, No. 4, Nov. 2012, 451–472
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author explores how mentoring and role modeling may help facilitate the development of female students’ understanding and practice of leadership in secondary girls’ school contexts.

Two different methods of qualitative data collection were used involving 186 staff members and 38 students in their final year of secondary schooling from girls’ schools located in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Both survey and focus groups were used as methods of data collection.


The findings revealed a variety of mentoring relationships existed in the schools studied. It was found that female student leaders were reciprocally mentors and role models to other students, whilst also mentees of older women mentors. Both the influence of and the greater need for female role models were also found to be important in supporting the development of adolescent girls for leadership.

Staff and students did not clearly define the difference between mentoring and role modeling, nor did they outline any specific mentoring programs. Nevertheless, mentoring in the girls’ schools studied was reported as an informal function that took place in two different forms: student– student and staff–student. The practice of mentoring was recognized by both groups of participants as the psychosocial function of role modeling. In each case, leadership was role modeled to the younger or less experienced of the pair. it was found by both staff and students that female adolescent leaders influenced other students in some way.
Staff responses highlighted that students were often successful as leaders when in mentoring relationships with younger students.

Furthermore, the students indicated the positive impact of female staff in modeling leadership skills and behavior. When students nominated examples of women leaders in their responses, they often cited female staff and in particular executive staff as positive role models.
The importance of female role modeling as a mentoring process aimed at shaping adolescent girls’ leadership understanding and practice was a finding of this study. Both staff and students agreed that the lack of women leaders in society who could act as role models and mentors was detrimental to female students’ development as leaders. Both groups stated that role models were necessary for assisting students in overcoming the barriers that prevented them from becoming effective leaders. Staff and students also acknowledged the importance of familial relationships in influencing leadership behavior.
Staff and students in this study reported the need for female students to be mentored in order to help address some of the barriers that they may face on their journey towards leadership.


The author argues that the exposure of girls to women leaders, both from within their school context and from greater society, is an important way of assisting girls in overcoming the gender barriers that they may face on their path to leadership in adult life. In conjunction with this, is the need to ensure female students understand the importance of same-sex mentoring relationships and that girls also reflect on how they role model their own leadership behavior to younger students.
She conclude that the need to address the lack of women leaders in society was raised as a concern in this study. The importance of mentoring and role modeling in addressing this issue and assisting in the development of girls as future women leaders has been ascertained by this research.

Updated: Nov. 07, 2016