Mentoring can boost the careers of women — if they can find a mentor. Research from University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business associate professor Sameer Srivastava, PHD suggests women have more to gain from affiliation with a mentor than their male counterparts.

Formal mentoring can build social skills and provide access to higher-status members of an organization, according to Srivastava. His recent study, published in the journal Social Forces, found that simply being publicly affiliated with a high-status mentor in a company appeared to benefit women more than it did men, apparently because the mentor affiliation resulted in a boost in visibility and a perceived legitimacy of the women’s career paths. As a result, Srivastava concluded, the women became more attractive as networking partners for colleagues.

Although the study was small, involving 139 employees of a U.S.-based company’s software lab in China, it looked directly at the impact of a formal mentoring program.

“Most mentoring research is based on cross-sectional surveys that are ill-suited to assessing whether formal mentoring programs actually work,” Srivastava explains. “The goal of this study was to provide more credible evidence about whether these programs can work, and if so, for which kinds of employees.”

The mentoring program involved assigning employees to shadow more senior persons in another part of the organization for about 24 days over 2 to 3 months. Those being mentored worked on short-term projects and attended meetings with their mentors.

The study also compared the mentored group to a control group of employees (who didn’t receive mentors) with similar past work performance and perceived potential for advancement. The results of the study showed those who were mentored – especially the women – developed far more social capital in their company. That suggests that formal mentoring may be a way to reduce gender inequality in the workplace, Srivastava concluded.

However, there can be potential problems when it comes to the mentorship of women. Women may not have adequate opportunities in many organizations to either have or be career mentors.

Research from Development Dimensions International (DDI), an international management consultancy firm, found the majority of mid- to senior-level businesswomen surveyed lacked workplace mentors.

“A staggering 63% of the survey group never had a formal mentor,” said DDI Chief Executive Officer Tacy M. Byham, PhD. “Considering that 67% rated mentorship as highly important in helping to advance and grow their careers, this indicates a critical gap in businesswomen’s development.”

The DDI survey, titled “Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn’t She? A Global Study of Businesswomen and Mentoring,” involved 318 women in mid- and senior-level positions in 30 different industries across the globe. The results revealed that women don’t mentor other women for 1 primary reason: They are rarely asked to be mentors. However, 75% of the women executives queried said they always accept invitations to be a mentor in their organization and would mentor more often if given the chance.

Other findings from the DDI research:

• About half of the women surveyed said they welcomed the opportunity to help other women rise to the top of their careers.

• Although 75% of the research participants reported that the time it takes to mentor affected their decision to accept mentorships, only 1% turned down mentoring because it interfered with other commitments.

• Only half of the women surveyed work at organizations that sponsor formal mentoring programs.

• Twenty percent of women in the study rated the quality of the formal mentoring training they received as high or very high. However, another 22% said they received no formal training at all in mentoring skills such as coaching and networking.


– Sherry Baker is a health and medical journalist whose work has appeared in Psychology Today, Newsweek, Discover and many other publications. She is also the former Director of Public Relations for the Emory Heart Center. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.