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Women Mentors May Be Better Role Models, But Men Are Vital To Career Advancement

January 20, 2000

Philadelphia, Pa. --- Women appear to be better role models, but men might lead the way to the top of the corporate ladder, according to Penn State researchers.

John J. Sosik and Veronica M. Godshalk, management faculty at Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, surveyed 200 proteges -- graduate school students ranging in age from 20 to 57 -- and their mentors, for a study they recently conducted on same-gender and cross-gender mentoring relationships.

The study found less role modeling and psychosocial support occurring among male mentors with men or women proteges, than among women mentors with either proteges.

But when it came to career development, which includes functions such as sponsorship, protection, providing challenging assignments, exposure and visibility, male and female proteges said they received greater assistance from male mentors. Sosik and Godshalk said much of this might be associated with stereotypes of men and women in the corporate world.

"Both men and women perceive men as possessing more and different forms of power than women," said Godshalk, assistant professor of management and organization. "Within traditional male-dominated organizations, both male and female proteges may shy away from female mentors when seeking career development functions leading to promotions."

Male mentors in cross-gender relationships with female proteges were associated with more career development than any other gender combination, they said.

" Among other things, male mentors can help female proteges overcome discriminatory barriers in place at traditional organizations," said Soisk, associate professor of management.

The study, "The Role of Gender in Mentoring: Implications for Diversified and Homogenous Mentoring Relationships," will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Vocational Behavior. Of the proteges surveyed, there were 115 men and 85 women, who rated 139 male and 61 female mentors from many industries on a variety of factors. In all, the study included 41 male mentor/female protégé relationships, 17 female mentor/male protégé relationships, 98 male mentor/male protégé relationships, and 44 female mentor/female protégé relationships. Ninety-one percent of the mentoring relationships were informal, and 85 percent included mentors who were direct supervisors of the proteges.

Researchers define mentoring as a relationship in which individuals with advanced experience or knowledge support, and assist or help, the upward mobility of junior group members.

In role modeling, which is a function of mentoring, mentors model exemplary personal achievements, character and behavior. As a result, proteges identify with and emulate mentors.

Sosik and Godshalk said further research should be performed to learn more about formal mentoring relationships, mentoring relationships with female mentors and male proteges, and mentoring relationships where the mentor is not the protégé's supervisor. Still, the researchers say organizations can tailor their mentoring programs, based on what they hope to accomplish.

"Organizations wishing to enhance career development of women and psychosocial well-being of men may consider developing and delivering training modules addressing issues critical to the success of cross-mentoring relationships," said Sosik, noting these might include gender differences, sexual harassment awareness and transformational leadership.


David Jwanier, manager of public information at Penn State/Philadelphia Region
(610) 648-3276.
Editors: Dr. Sosik is at and Dr. Godshalk is at by email.