BOSTON (February 3, 2004) — In steadily growing numbers, women in corporate America appear to be tapping into the power of female mentors to help themselves and the women below them succeed in business, according to survey results released today by the Center for Gender in Organizations of the Simmons College School of Management in Boston.
The online survey, administered to businesswomen at a national women's leadership conference in Boston last spring by the Simmons School of Management and sponsored by Compaq (now HP), points towards a significant increase in the use of mentors by businesswomen, and strong feelings that mentors play a key role in their productivity.
In a 1996 Catalyst study of women in corporate leadership, women cited lack of access to mentors as a serious barrier to advancement.
But today, the Simmons School of Management survey reveals:
- 82% of the businesswomen have an informal mentor - someone with whom they have developed a relationship, on their own, for career consultation.
- Many businesswomen seem to be turning in increasing numbers to women as mentors. Sixty percent of the women with mentors report their mentors are female. In studies in the mid 1980°s, women with mentors reported that only 17% of their mentors were female.
- 77% of the women say they themselves serve as mentors.
- Of those respondents with mentors, 86% say their relationship is "professionally productive." Those with mentors reported a greater number of promotions and greater satisfaction with their careers than those without mentors, and they said their mentor relationships helped reduce stress.
- Those with female mentors indicate that their mentor°s most valuable function was as role model: looking to the mentor for to how navigate career paths, how to develop strategies for success, and how to balance work and home life.
One finding that the Simmons School of Management research team said calls for a closer look is the fact that a growing number of mentors are the direct supervisors of those they mentor. Traditional human resource literature recommends that bosses refrain from serving as their subordinate's mentor, because of the difficulty in evaluating an employee while also being a sounding board for the employee's workplace uncertainties.
"The fact that more supervisors seem to be serving as mentors has huge implications for human resource professionals," said Stacy Blake-Beard, associate professor at the Simmons Center for Gender in Organizations and the study's principal investigator. "As organizations down-size and reporting structures flatten, there are fewer people other than supervisors who are available for mentoring. Human resource offices may need to look at how to train supervisors for the special skills they'll need to handle the mentor°s complex but important workplace role."
Blake-Beard said women who are looking for informal help in the workplace should develop a "network of support" instead of relying on one person--"your own personal board of advisors" who can offer advice depending on their experience and skills.
Overall, said Blake-Beard, the survey showed that "mentoring for businesswomen is more important than ever before for women who want to move ahead or be satisfied in their jobs."
"These women have sent a powerful message. With a growing number of women reaching back and across to help other women, it's clear that mentoring of women, by women, for women is a valuable tool for their workplace success."
The survey was completed by 432 businesswomen from across the country who attended the Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference. The women, primarily middle and senior-level managers, represented a range of industries, from small to multi-national. Sixty-four percent had household incomes of more than $100,000, age range was from 30-59, and mean work experience was 20 years.
The Simmons School of Management offers the only MBA program in the world specifically designed for women. Its annual spring Leadership Conference features nationally prominent women leaders and draws 2,000 businesswomen.
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