Feature

Mentoring can be a mixed bag for mid-career academic women. On the one hand, they have likely lost touch with their own mentors—many of whom were probably men, since more than 80 percent of full psychology professors were male during the late 1980s, when many of this cadre were in graduate school. On the other hand, they're probably doing a lot of mentoring themselves, which can be a time-intensive commitment.

Yet mentorship carries great rewards. For one, research shows people who are mentored make more money and advance more quickly than those who are not. In addition, mentoring relationships can be a rich part of your professional and personal life—consider mentees who become friends or even mentors, or how good mentoring may have enriched your own career.

To help mid-career women get back in balance with this important career piece, APA's Committee on Women in Psychology Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology speaker Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston, suggested a number of ways for mid-career women to renew the mentorship experience and make it more nurturing and productive. Her advice:

  • Define your relationships. At the institute, participants filled out charts detailing the number of mentors and mentees in their lives and noting whether those relationships were "vertical"—that is, top-down, with the mentor holding more power—or "horizontal," where the relationships were equal. Seeing your pattern can help you adjust it, which for mid-career women likely means beefing up the number, quality or both of horizontal relationships, she said.

  • Find new mentors. Next, consider areas where you want to grow or need support and think of people who can help you meet those goals. Crafting a personal mission statement—an outline of your professional values, beliefs and goals, and where you want to go with them—can enhance this process by helping you narrow down who to seek out for specific purposes.

"I'm suggesting that you pick your mentors," Henderson Daniel said. "This can be even more powerful if you have a mission statement."

  • Have different mentors for different purposes. Pick a variety of people to help meet your goals. Again, many mentor relationships should be reciprocal at this stage, and the institute is a perfect example of a built-in group of reciprocal mentors with whom participants can stay connected in creative ways, she noted.

  • Embrace other perspectives. Mentorship inevitably involves differences, whether in race, ethnicity, social class, power, sexual orientation, immigration status or other factors. While these differences can be a source of stress for both mentor and mentee, it's best to acknowledge them.

"If you don't talk about them, you don't develop a vocabulary or competence in talking about them," she said. "Differences don't always mean challenges—they just mean differences."

  • Beware your female biases. Women tend to give more than they get and have trouble asking for what they want. Keep these tendencies in mind if you fear asking people to mentor you, Henderson Daniel said.

The bottom line? "Mentoring matters throughout your life," Henderson Daniel said. "It is a joy that money can't buy."


Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.