In my research on gender equity, several factors that can hinder women’s advancement show up time and again, including stereotypes placed on women; challenges in obtaining valuable networking opportunities; lack of role models, mentors, and the right work experiences; familial responsibilities; a history of men in leadership positions (role congruity); and the tendency of women to take on voluntary extracurricular activities at work (organizational citizenship behavior).

In a series of posts, I’ll dive into each of these factors. First up? Mentorship.

Benefits of Mentorship
Although having role models does give the impression that a leadership position is attainable, a mentoring relationship can encourage action toward a goal (Pell, 1996). In fact, “mentoring is considered to be one of the most important factors for explaining female academic career progression” (Rani Thanacoody et al., 2006, p. 540). Mentorship has been traced to positive outcomes such as promotion, increases in compensation, job satisfaction, and decreases in turnover (Groves, 2007; Rani Thanacoody et al., 2006).

Challenges with Mentorship

  • Simple absence of women at the top to act as mentors [though, women aren’t the only ones who can mentor other women: female mentees who consistently had male mentors were actually found to have higher salaries than those who consistently had female mentors (Ragins & Cotton, 1999)]

  • Perception that a woman seeking out a man for a one-on-one conversation may be seen as aggressive or doing so in a sexual context (McCarty Kilian et al., 2005; Rani Thanacoody et al., 2006)

  • Women in leadership positions are reluctant to take on mentees, as it is not compatible with their incentives. One reason for this could be that activities such as being a mentor are not valued as highly for women as they are for men (Allen, 2006; Bilen-Green, Froelich, & Sukalski, 2008; Rani Thanacoody et al., 2006)

  • Finding multiple mentors: having more than one mentor, including those from multiple genders, is positively correlated with promotion rates (McCarty Kilian et al., 2005; Rani Thanacoody et al., 2006)

How to Find a Mentor

Most people I talk to know that having a mentor is valuable, but many also say that they have no idea how to go about getting one. I’ve listed several practical tips below that have served me well. As with my post on networking, I’ll also share a few specific vignettes of mentoring relationships I’ve had in my life, how they came to be, and ways they added value.

5 Tips for Making Mentorship Meaningful

Real-life vignettes of my own mentorship stories:


Allen, T. D. (2006). Rewarding good citizens: The relationship between citizenship behavior, gender, and organizational rewards. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 120–143.

Bilen-Green, C., Froelich, K. A., & Sukalski, K. (2008). The prevalence of women in academic leadership positions, and potential impact on prevalence of women in the professorial ranks. Women in Engineering ProActive Network, 1–11. RetrievedDecember 5, 2017, from

Groves, K. S. (2007). Integrating leadership development and succession planning best practices. Journal of Management Development, 26(3), 239–260.

McCarty Kilian, C., Hukai, D., & McCarty, C. Elizabeth. (2005). Building diversity in the pipeline to corporate leadership. Journal of Management Development, 24(2), 155–168.

Pell, A. N. (1996). Fixing the leaky pipeline: Women scientists in academia. Journal of Animal Science, 74(11), 2843–2848.

Ragins, B. R., & Cotton, J. L. (1999). Mentor functions and outcomes: A comparison of 135 men and women in formal and informal mentoring relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(4), 529–550. Retrieved from

Rani Thanacoody, P., Bartram, T., Barker, M., & Jacobs, K. (2006). Career progression among female academics. Women in Management Review, 21(7), 536–553. 

Ruchi M. Watson, MBA, Ed.D. serves as Managing Director of the Goff Strategic Leadership Center and faculty member in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.