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Diversity in Mentoring

Mentoring Underrepresented Populations

▼ Do mentees or mentors need to think about culture, background, race, or other aspects about a
     person when they enter into a mentoring relationship?

Yes. Although the general requirements and needs discussed in other sections of this Web site are applicable to all mentee-mentor relationships, mentees from underrepresented populations often face different barriers to academic success. In our experience these include:

  • Less research experience.
  • Less academic writing experience.
  • Fewer faculty role models.
  • Fewer colleagues.
  • More obligations and involvement in clinical and administrative activities because of the need for representation on committees and service as teachers and mentors to younger trainees.

Mentors of mentees who are from underrepresented populations need to be aware of background and cultural differences and the challenges that their mentees face. As in any mentee-mentor relationship, the mentors must assess the skills and competencies and address them in a proactive and positive way.

▼ What are some things that mentors can keep in mind when they mentor students from
     underrepresented populations?

  • Mentors should understand that different groups face different issues and experiences. Do not assume that groups or people within groups will share the same thoughts and perspectives.
  • Remember that social class, geographic origin, and other factors play an important role in shaping behaviors and attitudes.
  • Think about ways you have been socialized with regard to ideas about race, religion, and socioeconomic background, and make efforts to increase your awareness and knowledge about these ideas.

Mentoring Women

▼ Are there special issues concerning the mentoring of women?

Yes. Evidence suggests that women are less likely than men to have strong and successful mentoring relationships. As a result, women are less likely to be promoted to senior academic ranks, according to studies that control for the number of publications, grant support, hours worked, and specialty. Women often have different issues to deal with than men do. For example, women often have to worry about managing their home life while tackling a demanding job; they may be perceiving gender bias; and they often are forced to deal with the pressures of their biological clocks.

▼ What is different about the mentee-mentor relationship when the mentee is a woman?

Women traditionally think of the mentoring relationship in terms of support and advocacy. In contrast, the traditional, male-centered version of mentoring tends to involve competition and hierarchy.

▼ What are the challenges and potential barriers that women face in establishing successful
     mentoring relationships?

Women face several challenges with regard to establishing successful mentoring relationships. First, women and men look for different traits in a mentor. While both groups strive to find respected mentors with proven track records, women more often seek mentors who are approachable, understanding, and female. Given that fewer women are available to be mentors in academia, it's not surprising that women face difficulties finding mentors who match their needs and expectations. Second, there are inherent differences in the career paths of women and the model of academic success built around these paths. Men often begin their careers relatively unencumbered by family obligations, and they often choose to spend less time working as they get older. This traditional career pyramid is inverted for women. Women who decide to bear children do so at younger ages and face the brunt of family commitments at an earlier age. They are consequently more able and prepared to develop careers in the later stages of their life. This difference in life stage and family obligations presents another challenge, as it changes the needs of women as mentees.

▼ What are some solutions to overcoming barriers for women mentees?

Knowing that women face barriers is half the battle. A mentor who has women mentees can help by being proactive and encouraging them to seek multiple mentors who can help with various aspects of their career (for example, someone to discuss research methodology or curriculum development, someone to discuss career trajectory, and someone to discuss balancing work and home life).