Matters to a Degree

The feminization of psychology has made opportunities for women to mentor other women in psychology vitally important. Why? Women are underrepresented in high-level and visible leadership roles, and there are a lack of diverse women in these positions. Women face uncertainty about the sacrifices they must make for their careers, and some women are remaining childless based on career constraints rather than choice.


The literature identifies many general advantages for professionals who have been mentored compared with those who haven't, ranging from higher-level first jobs, greater perceived career experiences and better preparation for work. Studies across many disciplines have shown that mentoring leads to more productive careers, faster attainment of relevant licensure and credentialing, higher teaching and performance evaluations, more frequent success in obtaining grants and greater access to leadership opportunities.

Men have historically benefited the most from mentoring because it was developed and practiced in businesses and corporations—protected environments that women have only recently entered. Because traditional mentoring relationships have not been available or sensitive to women's needs, specific models for mentoring women are essential.


A mentor is a person in an individual's chosen profession who is actively working to integrate that new person into a developmentally appropriate professional role. The mentor feels some responsibility for the successful development of the mentee's career.

Mentoring changes over time and includes the intentional process of nurturing, support, protection, guidance, instruction and challenge within mutually agreed upon and ethical parameters that include the integration of personal and professional aspects of an individual's life.

Mentoring relationships are unique, with three primary purposes that set them apart from other types of relationships.

  • Mentors help with career advancement. They help the mentees obtain positions; receive guidance over the duration of her career; develop the knowledge, skills and ability to determine what's important in a rapidly shifting and complex profession; demonstrate expertise; easily relate to other professionals and maintain relationships over time; select networking opportunities that are compatible with her lifestyle and that will help with advancement; be flexible and adaptable, especially to the subcultures within psychology; work well within the unspoken norms of these subcultures; and be sensitive to the political climate.

  • Mentors aid with psychosocial development. They should model competence and a solid professional identity; encourage risk-taking; provide acceptance and validation; serve as a confidant and friend; assist in the development of a social network; introduce the mentee to other respected psychologists; and focus on personal development, making a relational connection and assisting with professional identity development.

  • Mentors assist in maintaining and enhancing mentees' quality of life. They should cultivate the ability to give equal time and attention to life balance and encourage guiltless self-care and other coping strategies to maintain health and well-being.


Mentoring relationships endure when there is an awareness of the possible positive and negative consequences of the relationship. Problems can be avoided with preemptive discussions and open communication. Mentors who maintain an interest and commitment to helping their mentees, who are accessible and do not exploit or use their mentees' work exclusively for personal benefit, and who give mentees the credit they are due contribute to the relationship's trust, growth and longevity. Good mentors are not threatened by the success of their mentees, and they do not undermine the mentees' confidence. They also allow mentees to develop their interests and talents while encouraging independence.

Because all relationships evolve over time and need to be redefined after mentees meet their initial career goals, many mentor roles become less pronounced and transform into that of a friend and colleague.

Mentees inevitably outgrow their need for careful career monitoring and guidance, and that's when mentoring relationships will ideally develop into being more egalitarian.

For further discussion, join the APAGSWOMEN listserv (see APAGS) or email me.