Female staff gain more than males from workplace mentors

When it comes to raising one’s profile within the workplace, female employees stand much to gain from formal, face-to-face mentoring programmes, says an Indian-origin researcher.

After analysing a field experiment involving 139 “high potential” employees at a software development lab for a US-based company in China, assistant professor Sameer Srivastava from University of California-Berkeley reported that women gained more social capital from affiliation with a high-status mentor than their male counterparts. According to Srivastava, formal mentoring can expand professional networks in a variety of ways.

Qualitative interviews in his study pointed to one main reason — women experienced a greater increase in visibility and legitimacy as a result of their mentor affiliations than did male participants. As a result, women became more attractive network partners for their colleagues. In the study, “senior leadership believed that the people who did well in the organisation were those who had not only depth but also breadth of social capital”, Srivastava added.

The company had been experimenting with different ways to help employees develop this breadth of social capital and tried, among other things, a formal mentoring programme.

The programme assigned employees to shadow a more senior person in another part of the organisation for about a dozen days over a two-to-three-month period. Because the study was based on one particular organisation, Srivastava says that care must be taken in generalising the findings to other contexts.

Nevertheless, he believes the findings support the idea of formal mentoring programmes as a means

of addressing differences in organisational networks that women and men tend to form, which, in turn, contribute to gender inequality in the workplace. The results appear in the journal Social Forces.