A strong mentor/mentee connection is integral to encourage people to set lofty targets and do what it takes to accomplish them. But without the right mentor, it can be a struggle for individuals to feel like they have what it takes to reach their goals. This is particularly true for women and minority groups who strive to see that they are not alone in what they want to do; that others have come before them, accomplished big feats, and are willing to guide them to follow their own dreams.
As a woman in the world of academia, this can be a difficult feat. The women who could be role models may not realize there are mentorship opportunities or see themselves as worthy of being a leader. Prestigious scholars are often busy with their own work and personal lives, but finding mentorship opportunities to reach out and encourage someone else to better themselves is a smart goal for both the mentor and the mentee.
Statistics on Women in Academia
As much as there is a push for equality of genders in all roles, the statistics show a disproportionate amount of male to female ratios in academia. Although the percentages are climbing slowly, there is, on average, a much higher percentage of men over women in higher education positions, particularly in fields like chemistry and math.
Women scholars are underrepresented in many subject areas and upper-level positions. Even in cutting-edge schools like MIT, it’s not easy to fit in as a female, although they did recently introduce the first woman Dean of the School of Science, paving the way for other schools to follow in their footsteps and promote more women in these roles.
When a woman steps into leadership positions, it makes headlines. When a man steps into a similar position, it’s assumed and expected. This makes it hard to close that gender gap in the fight for equality.
The Challenges of Being a Woman in an Academic Landscape
Women face obstacles in academia that their male counterparts may not realize or have to contend with. These challenges make an already intimidating career path more difficult, such as:
● Citation concerns. If a woman self-cites her work, she faces the problem of being accused as self-promoting and using questionable actions to improve her career. Citations and peer-reviewed publications have direct impacts on a scholar’s promotion opportunities, but self-citing can be seen as a negative aspect. However, men are more likely to self-cite than women. Women are more likely to question the consequences of self-citing on their image, wanting to be liked and respected both, but unsure which avenue will lead them there.
● Motherhood roles can create inferred complications, whether they exist or not. Women are stereotyped frequently as the main caregiver, and as a mother, the burden of being a career-minded person and a prominent figure in their child’s life can be difficult to juggle. Beyond the woman’s own issues is the fact that she will likely face discrimination by others as to her ability to manage high-demand, high-pressure responsibilities in promotions in addition to her motherhood roles.
● Harsher judgments and more responsibilities and expectations are afforded to women. The “boys will be boys” stereotype allows many men in all fields, including research, to have a free pass to make mistakes, but women are often expected to be above reproach at all times.
With so many obstacles to success in academia, it’s crucial that women have a strong mentor to guide them.
Traits of a Mentor
A mentor/mentee relationship is symbiotic. As the mentee learns from her role model, the mentor is able to grow from the seeds they plant and their time spent helping someone else become successful. A good mentor inspires their mentee in ways such as:
● Providing knowledge in their career roles as well as guidance through challenges that arise
● Pointing out areas where improvement is possible and reminding the mentee of strengths they may not realize they have
● Offering opportunities for personal and professional growth
● Giving much-needed encouragement and support
● Guiding the oft-overwhelmed individual in learning how to set and enforce healthy boundaries
● Offering a safe space for the mentee to open up to worries or problems that they could use feedback on
Women, in particular, are quick to add more to their plates if it means helping others or improving their academic stature. Having a mentor to guide them can reduce stress levels and limit the potential for academic burnout.