Mentoring is viewed as an effective strategy applied in organisations in order to support colleagues, provide expert opinion and assistance, and promote the further professional development of an employee. As a result, mentoring allows for forming productive and beneficial relationships between mentors and mentees that contribute to learning, the development of skills, and the creation of a positive, supportive atmosphere in the workplace (Abalkhail & Allan 2015). However, the literature indicates that the issue of mentoring in the advancement of the career of a female manager is more complex, and it requires further analysis and discussion. In this context, it is important to analyse the effectiveness of mentoring in advancing the careers of female managers with reference to the work of Ehrich (2008) and Durbin (2016) among others. Despite the fact that researchers identified various issues associated with mentoring, such as a lack of mentors, power imbalances, and cross-gender mentoring, the effectiveness of this strategy for female managers is supported by evidence in studies that also accentuate the necessity of selecting mentoring techniques depending on mentees’ expectations and organisational goals.
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The key idea promoted in the management literature is that mentoring is effective in any organisation, especially for minority groups and employees who need additional support. Women who will be promoted to managerial roles or who have recently taken a senior position in their organisation are viewed as individuals who may require the assistance of mentors (Janssen, Vuuren & Jong 2016; Schein 2007). The reason is that the percentage of women who take leadership positions in organisations is lower than the percentage of men. Furthermore, women can require more career and psychological assistance, as well as social support, when being promoted (Davis & Maldonado 2015). According to Durbin (2016), mentoring helps women to avoid feeling isolated when they take managerial roles and when they lack the support of other female managers, because the managerial staff in many organisations is mainly represented by men. From this point of view, the key benefits of having a mentor for a female manager are the assistance, communication, support, and advice that are provided by experienced persons who can help women to adapt to new roles and achieve at a high level.
It is important to note that mentoring can be defined as a strategy promoted by human resource managers according to which experienced employees or mentors build professional, supportive relationships with their colleagues or mentees in order to help them share information associated with work, cope with new work tasks, and become oriented to new duties and responsibilities (Davis & Maldonado 2015; Ehrich 2008). These are the key components of formal mentoring, which is effective when the focus is on helping employees to adapt to work. However, when more social and psychological support is required without depending on strict plans and scheduled communication, informal mentoring works more effectively (Durbin 2016; Janssen, Vuuren & Jong 2016). Thus there are two key types of mentoring that can be effectively used by mentors in their work with female managers.
Research indicates that in spite of the expectations of organisational leaders, informal mentoring potentially provides better results than formal mentoring. According to researchers, this phenomenon can be explained with reference to the type of relationships desired by the mentee, as well as by the woman’s position (Durbin 2016; Ehrich 2008). Women who take senior management roles are inclined to view informal mentoring as more appropriate for them because of the possibilities for developing informal connections and receiving advice from mentors whom they choose independently (Durbin 2016). Informal mentoring is often the result of building prolonged professional relationships between a mentor and a mentee, who can be perceived as a protégé of the mentor. In this context, the promotion of a female mentee and positive changes in her career can be viewed as expected consequences of these relationships. From this point of view, women benefit from developing these types of mentoring relationships because they are mutually advantageous, and they are developed in the context of similar goals and objectives.
Still, it is necessary to point out that mentoring is only effective when the techniques used by mentors help women to achieve success upon obtaining a managerial position. Therefore women who have recently been promoted to higher managerial roles can require more formal support and mentoring organised according to a programme with set objectives (Davis & Maldonado 2015; Durbin 2016). In this case, formal mentoring can be regarded as a more appropriate choice because these programmes include a list of skills to develop in order to perform certain duties; they include objectives to reach, regulate the communication between mentors and mentees, and ensure that communication will be regular and continuous (Durbin 2016; Ehrich 2008). As a result, after completing these programmes, female managers appear to be prepared to perform their duties and responsibilities.
Human resource managers should also pay attention to the fact that different women can have various perceptions of mentoring depending on their past experiences. If these experiences have been positive, the development of effective relationships can be expected when women take higher managerial positions and begin to work with a mentor (Davis & Maldonado 2015; Sahoo & Lenka 2016). Still, the gender of a mentor can be an issue because women can consider cross-gender relationships differently. Nevertheless, the literature on the topic provides much evidence for the view that mentoring in organisations is an appropriate and potentially beneficial practice (Durbin 2016; Ehrich 2008; Janssen, Vuuren & Jong 2016). Thus when female managers are able to influence their participation in mentoring programmes and choose mentors to work with, their relationships with more experienced colleagues can become more productive, cooperative, and advantageous for an organisation.
Views regarding the effectiveness of mentoring for female managers are also based on the idea that this practice helps women to overcome the “the glass ceiling” effect and cope with possible barriers when they take higher managerial positions. After breaking “the glass ceiling,” a woman can require the assistance of mentors to handle new responsibilities and environments (Davis & Maldonado 2015). For a woman, the process of promotion can be associated with a range of obstacles because females are often viewed as not having developed the leadership skills and abilities required in managerial positions, as well as not having enough experience and knowledge (Ehrich 2008; Sahoo & Lenka 2016). These obstacles create additional stress for women who hope to be promoted. Therefore when they take their desired role, much support is required because female managers often have no access to networks of female managers, or they can experience some kind of prejudice (Hoobler, Lemmon & Wayne 2014). The support of mentors is extremely important at this stage because women have fewer chances to succeed in this area than men because of various barriers, as has been observed in studies of the problem.
Research in the field indicates that mentoring practices are important for female managers because they receive additional psycho-social resources and support in order to develop their leadership abilities and effectively perform managerial tasks. In response to these study findings, many organisations try to identify individuals who can work as mentors for female managers. As benefits of mentoring are supported by evidence in studies, more attention is being paid to developing these advantageous relationships (Durbin & Tomlinson 2014; Hoobler, Lemmon & Wayne 2014). However, the problem is that women who perform managerial roles often lack mentors who can set appropriate goals for them or who can develop effective informal mentoring relationships. The reason is that female leaders usually require the assistance of women in the same positions (Durbin 2016; Ehrich 2008). Organisations experience difficulties with assigning female mentors because there are often no role models for women in these contexts. Furthermore, men usually have more opportunities to participate in informal mentoring than women. As a result, in addition to focusing on the benefits of mentoring for women in organisations, it is also important to pay attention to challenges that can be associated with this practice.
The problem is that, in different situations, female managers require various types of support, and the nature of the mentoring provided can be inappropriate for a particular case, as Ehrich has observed (2008). In her study, the author tried to discuss the issue of mentoring female managers from another perspective, not only accentuating benefits of mentoring for women but also identifying potential obstacles and problems associated with this practice. In reviewing the literature in the field, Ehrich (2008) presented three key issues that need to be addressed to make sure that mentoring for women in managerial or senior positions can be effective. These issues are the nature of the relationships between mentors and mentees as well as the focus of these relationships, cross-gender mentoring, and power imbalances. These challenges need to be discussed in detail as the focus on these aspects makes it possible to analyse the effectiveness of mentoring for female managers from different perspectives.
In spite of the obvious benefits of mentoring programmes for managers who can rely on the support of more experienced colleagues, proposed mentoring techniques and practices are often not effective enough for a female manager in a particular organisation. According to Ehrich (2008), many problems are observed when mentees cannot recognise the type of mentoring in which they are involved or when they have no opportunity to choose between formal or informal mentoring and its type and outcomes in order to contribute to their professional development. This idea is also supported by Durbin (2016), who stated that informal mentoring is preferred by senior managers and by managers in private organisations. In contrast, formal mentoring programmes are beneficial for novices or for managers who need to pay more attention to the development of their professional and leadership skills. Consequently, as has been noted by Ehrich (2008), formal mentoring is used in the majority of organisations because of the level of mentees and the lack of experts to act as mentors in the context of informal mentoring.
It is also important to note that another obstacle to receiving support and assistance during mentoring for female managers is associated with cross-gender relationships. The problem is that female managers often require the support of mentors, but when these mentors are men, possible barriers to communication between a mentor and a mentee can be observed. Stereotypes, prejudice, and the risk of harassment are often discussed in the literature when the focus is on examining the relationships between male mentors and female mentees (Durbin 2016; Janssen, Vuuren & Jong 2016). However, there are also arguments for developing cross-gender relationships because male mentors can teach female managers how to behave in different situations, work with male colleagues and business partners, negotiate, solve problems and make decisions, demonstrate leadership abilities, and prevent or address conflicts while working in male-dominated environments (Ehrich 2008; Hoobler, Lemmon & Wayne 2014). Therefore managers need to find ways to resolve cross-gender issues related to mentoring.
Furthermore, in order to ensure that mentoring is effective, female managers should understand what type of relationship is appropriate for them and whether cross-gender relationships are comfortable for them in this context. There are also differences in mentoring in public and private sector organisations (Ehrich 2008; Janssen, Vuuren & Jong 2016). Durbin (2016) reports that women in the private sector are more oriented toward creating and developing mentoring relationships, and males often act as mentors in this case. Thus cross-gender relationships are typical for the private sector (Durbin 2016; Ehrich 2008). Women who have recently become senior managers are interested in receiving support or advice from male senior managers, who are usually viewed as specialists in this area.
Mentoring relationships can be effective and contribute to the development of women’s careers in the area of management in those cases when mentors and mentees understand each other’s roles and needs. According to Durbin (2016), even if there are no cross-gender issues and mentors and mentees are of the same gender, they need to have similar aspirations, goals, backgrounds, education, and attitudes to their careers as well as similar beliefs and values. These similarities are important in order to guarantee that the communication between a mentor and a female mentee will be productive and that the outcomes will be positive (Durbin 2016; Schein 2007). The goal of mentoring is the development of a female manager’s leadership skills, her professional potential, knowledge, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and other important capacities. It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that mentoring programmes contribute to the development of these abilities and qualities, but their effectiveness depends on the success of selecting a mentor in each case.
One more challenge to discuss while analysing the effectiveness of mentoring for advancing the careers of female managers is the issue of power. It is difficult to determine who should control mentoring relationships in terms of setting goals and objectives, selecting topics for discussion, and other aspects (Abalkhail & Allan 2015). According to Ehrich (2008), the problem is that mentors usually control the power in their relationships with mentees, but this position can decrease the motivation of mentees and negatively affect their learning. On the other hand, if mentees choose the direction for their relationships with mentors independently, there are more chances that these relationships will be appropriate and beneficial for the participants because the focus is on the development of mentees’ skills in a comfortable atmosphere (Durbin & Tomlinson 2014; Ehrich 2008). Therefore the critics of mentoring programmes, especially formal mentoring practices, accentuate these challenges while discussing the overall effectiveness of the method for promoting female managers’ careers in organisations.
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The analysis of the literature on mentoring and its role in influencing the career development of female managers indicates that mentoring programmes, including formal and informal ones, are extremely important for both public and private organisations. The reason is that these programmes enable female managers to receive the required support and assistance. They can ask for advice, develop strategies and techniques for working with employees, and learn how to build strong professional relationships. The likelihood of success of mentoring programmes is increased when the techniques used address mentees’ expectations, the mentoring programme is organised according to the company’s goals, and cross-gender and power issues in the relationships between a mentor and a female mentee are effectively addressed. However, if these issues are not addressed, there are risks that a proposed informal or formal mentoring programme will not be effective enough to guarantee that female managers obtain all the necessary knowledge to develop their skills and abilities. Therefore, the effectiveness of mentoring depends on a range of factors that need to be taken into account by human resource managers when they plan the implementation of mentoring programmes and choose whether informal or formal mentoring is appropriate for working with a particular female manager.
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