Are Mentorship Programs for Women Upholding Gender Norms?

Can a mentor project their own bias and experiences on a mentee without even realizing it? Yes. Call it “human error” if you will, but the truth is that this is hurting women mentees rather than helping them navigate the professional world. Guidance of any sort is supposed to help one think and make decisions for themselves, but is this truly being manifested? If you are a mentee, ask yourself if gendered norms are being perpetuated or whether you are learning to navigate your career trajectory by deciding for yourself. Researchers from the Australian National University, Simone Dennis Professor of Anthropology and Head of School of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Alison Behie, Associate Professor in Biological Anthropology shared their findings.

It’s always about whether a woman looks better or worse than a man, without actually thinking about why this is taking place

‘Our year-long prize-winning international study focused on university mentoring programs has discovered women-only mentoring programs are not all they seem. Surprisingly, they can perpetuate the gendered hierarchies they attempt to remove. Through mentoring, women who have succeeded on male terms set other women on the same path… without meaning to, female mentors and mentees participated in the conditions of their own domination, thus keeping male bias and advantage firmly in place.’ they said. One example is the issue of when to have children, women were being advised on when to have children so as to outperform their male counterparts. It’s always about whether a woman looks better or worse than a man, without actually thinking about why this is taking place, or even questioning standards of work that favor men instead of women, let’s change this.

If mentors honestly want to help professional women, they need to stop “manufacturing” duplicates of themselves

‘Our research showed mentoring practices can conceal power relations and their effects. That’s because they teach women how to work within, rather than change, a system biased against them,’ added Dennis and Behie. So what now? Should women abandon their mentorship programs? Of course, not. However, women need to be better informed and choose their mentors wisely. If mentors honestly want to help professional women, they need to stop “manufacturing” clones of themselves. We have all become highly accustomed to what success “really looks like” that it’s become arduous to think outside the box. Therefore, the approach to mentorship needs to be reinvented in order to tap into the full potential of professional women regardless of their career status. 

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