Telfer School of Management
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Research Links - May 2008 - Gender, Trust and the Corporate Ladder
Professor Joanne Leck, Associate Dean (Academic)
Telfer School Researcher Investigates the Complex Dynamics of Mentoring.
The verdict is in: mentoring works. Young professionals who forge ongoing developmental relationships with more experienced colleagues receive higher salaries, enjoy more opportunities for growth and report greater career satisfaction than counterparts without these sustained workplace relationships. And while mentoring is advantageous both to men and women, it has been found to be particularly important to the career advancement of professional women.
But the news is not all bright. There is a shortage of high-quality mentors—especially female mentors—in Canada. And evidence suggests that male mentors are less likely to trust their female protégés than their male protégés. According to Dr. Joanne Leck, this combination of pitfalls has significant consequences for female professionals who wish to climb the corporate ladder.
“Without mentoring, most women in the junior ranks of organizations face real difficulties in accessing information and resources, becoming visible, gaining power and navigating organizational politics,” says the Telfer School associate professor. “That’s why it’s important that we not only take steps to encourage more female leaders to become mentors, but also understand why cross-gender mentoring relationships hinder the formation of trust and what organizations can do to facilitate greater trust between male mentors and their female protégés.”
To gain greater insights into these vexing issues, Dr. Leck—assisted by Telfer School colleague Dr. Barbara Orser—has undertaken two research projects, both of which are sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. “Disconnections: Gender and Trust in Mentoring Relationships” examines how trust is formed and evolves in mentoring relationships, and assesses how trust differs between same-gender and cross-gender mentoring relationships. Dr. Leck contends that a greater understanding of these issues will have vital implications not only on mentoring, but also on the careers of women.
“If women are trusted less than their male peers, then they are less likely to be promoted to the senior ranks of their organizations,” she says. “While this problem could be solved through more female mentors, the relative scarcity of women in upper-management positions makes this solution untenable. So, since women are going to be mentored by men, we need to know how to make these relationships work.”
The second project—“Wanted: Mentors”—goes directly to the heart of the mentor shortage. Through this research, Dr. Leck, Dr. Orser and their team will attempt to uncover the factors that can be used to predict whether or not someone will become a mentor, identify the resources mentors believe are important to facilitate mentoring, and examine how the organizational costs of mentoring can be reduced by tracking how mentoring relationships develop over time.
“Findings in these areas will enable our research team to develop a framework for a Canadian mentoring association that not only supports mentoring, but also trains and certifies mentors,” she says. “By helping found this association, I believe this research will go a long way toward creating a crop of qualified, professional mentors.”
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