Male vs. Female Mentors
by Connie Glaser
Connie Glaser is one of the country's leading experts on leadership and communications. Her best-selling books have been translated into over a dozen languages. A dynamic speaker at corporate and business events, she may be contacted at email@example.com
There is no question that the benefits of having a mentor are legion. Mentors can provide sponsorship, guidance, and feedback, as well as create unique learning opportunities for you. Mentors are also there to counsel, challenge, and encourage you to reach your full potential.
However, a question that predictably arises is: “When looking for a mentor, does gender matter?” The research suggests that it does, and that your choice should depend on what you're looking for in the relationship.
Female mentors appear to be better role models, but male mentors may be better at leading the way to the top of the corporate ladder. That's the conclusion of a Pennsylvania State University study that involved 200 mentees - all graduate students, ranging in age from 20 to 57.
The study found that women tend to excel at offering personal support, counseling, and role modeling. With women guiding you, it's often more about commitment and chemistry with the emphasis on personal growth and development, rather than about promotions.
Female mentors tend to be more approachable, as well as more willing to share pieces of themselves. Generally, female mentors are also better at offering advice on bridging the divide that often exists between men and women in the workplace. After all, they've been in the trenches; they know how to play the game.
With female mentors, there is also no danger of sexual harassment or sexual undercurrents in the relationship. And while in some organizations women may not have the same clout to sponsor their mentees for key committee appointments or projects, you can generally count on more bonding, nurturing, and confidence-building with a female mentor.
The male advantage? In terms of career development - which involves functions such as sponsorship, providing challenging assignments, exposure, and visibility - both male and female mentees in the Penn State study said they received greater assistance from male mentors. Study authors John S. Sosik and Veronica Godshalk agree that much of this might be associated with stereotypes of men and women in the corporate world as, “both men and women perceive men as possessing different forms of power than women.”
In fact, in their study, male mentors emerged especially effective at helping female mentees. It was also noted that male mentors can help female mentees overcome discriminatory barriers in place at traditional organizations.
In many surveys, however, a mentor's gender is not an issue. More important is that the chemistry works and that you and your mentor work well together toward achieving the same goals.